University proposes performing arts complex

Gordon Smith, director of the School of Music, speaks to a group of 150 community members on Monday at City Hall.
Gordon Smith, director of the School of Music, speaks to a group of 150 community members on Monday at City Hall.

If the City of Kingston agrees to a recent proposal made by the University, the School of Music could have a facility its faculty members say it’s needed for 70 years: a concert hall.

More than 150 community members gathered in City Hall Monday evening to hear the University’s proposal for the J.K. Tett Creativity Centre. It is one of three proposals for the space being considered by the City of Kingston which is seeking to sell the property.

The Tett Centre, located at 370 King St. West, is currently home to nine different community groups.

The University’s proposal includes a 300 to 350-seat concert hall, a black box theatre and a teaching space for the Queen’s School of Music, as well as for the drama and film departments.

Principal Karen Hitchcock told those assembled that the proposal would foster “synergy” between the University and the arts community at the Tett Centre.

“What we’re doing is enhancing linkages with the existing art and community groups,” she said.

Hitchcock said the proposal would ensure public access to the waterfront, enhance the view of Lake Ontario from King Street and provide a venue for outdoor concerts. It would share the concert hall and black box theatre with community groups, while working to redevelop the Tett and currently unused Stella Buck Buildings.

Gordon Smith, director of the School of Music, said the school has been interested in a concert hall for many years. He cited a letter written to Kingston’s mayor in 1936 by Frank Harrison, the first director of the School of Music, commenting on the need for a concert hall.

“[The concert hall] would be the only available professional recording studio between Toronto and Montreal,” Smith said.

Vice-Principal (Operations and Finance) Andrew Simpson and members of the Zeidler Partnership—the architects hired by the University to design facilities at the Tett Centre—fielded questions from the audience regarding the University’s proposal.

Community members raised concerns regarding the availability of parking, the possibility of losing pre-existing facilities such as a gas-fired kiln, and guarantees of community access to the proposed facilities. Liz Schell, vice-president of the Domino Theatre, a group that currently uses the Tett Centre, said that despite her concerns about the project, she is excited about the potential of the University’s proposal.

“The area is amazing for its possibility [as an arts complex],” she told the audience.

Hitchcock said she thinks the interaction between the Kingston arts community and the University would benefit each party.

“It would make a perfect complement to our arts and other programs,” she told the Journal.

Glen Laubenstein, chief administrative officer for the City of Kingston, said the city is interested in the University’s proposal.

“We’re happy to be working with Queen’s,” he said. “So is the arts community.”

The University has not yet made an offer to the city and there is currently no time frame for City Council’s decision regarding the Tett Centre.

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