It’s time to act

This project needs to get started or Harvest will surely suffer. 

By Brent Staeben

Every car owner’s been there: facing a steep mechanic’s bill on an aging vehicle, do you spend a little on repairs, hoping to get a bit more mileage out of your old ride, or bite the bullet and invest in a new car that will be reliable for years to come?

That’s where we are with the Playhouse. The time for band-aids is long past. The time for a permanent solution is now. We need to build a new performing arts centre to replace the Playhouse.

 The Blind Boys of Alabama perform at the Opening Gala of the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival on the TD Marquee Stage at The Fredericton Playhouse, September 18, 2018.

The Blind Boys of Alabama perform at the Opening Gala of the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival on the TD Marquee Stage at The Fredericton Playhouse, September 18, 2018.

Our arts, dance, cultural, theatre and music communities need this venue; just as importantly, so do the thousands of local folks in amateur and community groups whose first public appearance is often on this professional stage – folks like Measha Brueggergosman and David Myles, who now represent the best of us world-wide.

Most importantly, the public needs this facility as a place to gather and attend live performances together, an essential element for building community and enjoying the rich cultural life we’ve come to expect. For so many reasons, today’s Playhouse is a vital element of who we are as a community.

We’ve saved for the proverbial rainy day when the roof starts leaking and, like it or not, that day is here.
— Brent Staeben

I understand the concerns out there. Oh, I’ve heard them. Many of you think it’s a crazy amount of money for a facility like this. Many of you would like the City to spend that money on other things or, better yet, not spend it at all. Our municipal property tax bills are already among the highest in Canada and this will only drive them higher, right?

Well, no. The City of Fredericton’s traditional spending on infrastructure has largely been of the roads and sewers variety while our investments in other community facilities have actually been quite modest. Our municipal leadership has done so well keeping our capital spending in check, we now have one of the best debt-to-spending ratios in Canada. This is the time to put that foresight to good use for the benefit of our community.

We Frederictonians are proud of our many community amenities and activities – we love our sports, our arts, our walking paths, our river, our gorgeous historic downtown. It is the sum total of all these things that make ours a truly incredible city. We rely on City Council and staff to ensure all our amazing city assets are well-tended and get the necessary investments they need to guarantee the quality of life we’ve come to expect. It is now the Playhouse’s time for that investment.

With my Harvest hat on

With my Harvest hat on, I can say the Playhouse is absolutely essential to the Harvest experience. And with a newly designed facility, we expect it to be even more so. When – not if – the Playhouse closes, it will leave a major hole in our festival. This project needs to get started or Harvest will surely suffer.

As a taxpayer, I’ve watched this community invest in things over the years that are of no personal interest to me. For instance, I’ve never actually been inside the Grant-Harvey Centre. But I understand that, even though I might not ever use those assets, they make my community happier and healthier, so I value them tremendously. A community is the sum total of all its people, all their needs and aspirations. We should do our best to meet these varying needs in the most appropriate way. Replacing the Playhouse is a tremendous need requiring immediate action.

As a “Swim Dad”

As a “Swim Dad”, I’ve put some time into both helping save the Sir Max Aitken (SMA) pool and lobbying stakeholders for a new pool to replace it. I’d use all the same arguments as I have above for why we need to act now on designing and building a new pool. Like the Playhouse’s replacement, the community desperately needs it, and the City has a responsibility to act now to ensure this essential need is met. To do any less would be inequitable and an abdication of its responsibility to the thousands of people who would benefit from a new facility – not just in fitness and sport but in the training around water safety and lifesaving so vital to a population that spends its summers on rivers, lakes and the nearby ocean.

Today, we’re in a great position as a city – by all accounts, a very enviable one. We’ve saved for the proverbial rainy day when the roof starts leaking and, like it or not, that day is here. It’s time to step out and boldly make the infrastructure investments this community desperately needs. We can handle two vital infrastructure projects at a time – we can have both a new pool AND a new performing arts centre. It’s time to act. Allons-y, Fredericton, let’s go!

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Brent Staeben is the volunteer Programming Director for the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.