A vision is in place to turn part of King William Street into a performing arts district.
It’s being led by Theatre Aquarius, which can’t meet demand for use of its 750-seat venue, Dofasco Centre for the Arts.
Theatre Aquarius draws more than 100,000 visitors a year and generates more than $12 million in direct economic benefits to Hamilton each year. Those numbers could be much higher, says general manager Lorna Zaremba, if there were a smaller, more flexible theatre space nearby.
In dramatic circles, it’s called a black box theatre. It’s open space where the stage and seating can be configured in any way for any kind of performance.
“When we look at our own growth and sustainability, there are exploding revenue opportunities that we can’t grow because we’re landlocked in this building,” she said.
“We’re a destination and an anchor but we need a district around us.”
She said the theatre has been keeping its head above water “but if you’re always running to keep up, you’re actually getting behind. You have to see the needs going forward.”
Theatre Aquarius has a full subscription series that leaves little room for stage time for workshops, camps or its performing arts school. There are year-round rental requests that have to be turned down because the theatre is in use, says Zaremba. As well, the theatre is too big for some shows and needs more flexible space to accommodate a range of productions, rehearsals and youth and postsecondary programs.
“The performing arts community is telling us it needs this,” she said.
Zaremba and the theatre’s board decided not to wait for the city or a private developer to solve the problem. It hired planning group Civicplan and architect David Premi to study the situation and come up with a proposal.
Zaremba is now analyzing the financials and developing a business case for the project. The theatre’s board has created a taskforce and the plan has been shopped around to city staff. The idea, ultimately, is to find a development partner.
“There are so many theatre artists moving here. And they want to have theatre work in their home community,” she said.
“This is an opportunity to help develop the theatre industry in Hamilton and develop future artists.”
For planner Paul Shaker, it’s about connecting the section of King William between John Street and Wellington Street to the more thriving western end and to King Street running through International Village.
“We need to connect those dots.”
A 15-year city master plan from 2004 covering King William from James to Wellington envisions the east-west corridor as “Hamilton’s destination entertainment district.” It divides King William into three precincts, with only the first – from James to John – having been implemented.
King William was extensively reconstructed between James and John streets, where the reborn Lister and the Empire Times have given new life to the street. There is a strong existing streetwall, at least on the north side, featuring restaurants, cafes and bakeries.
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