Future location of new Fredericton Playhouse unclear

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Fredericton Playhouse options draw skepticism in suburbs

The board of directors of the Fredericton Playhouse is still wondering where the new performing arts centre will go. 

In November, Mayor Mike O'Brien announced a new centre to replace the Playhouse would be on the site of the York Street parking lot behind City Hall, next to the Justice Building. 

But earlier this year, the Gallant government announced it would be spending $76 millionto renovate the landmark Centennial Building in downtown Fredericton, including the addition of a five-storey courthouse. 

"We need to know what the province plans to do with the [existing Justice Building] because it will certainly influence the planning and design of the performing arts centre," said Greg MacFarlane, vice-president of the Playhouse board.

- New Playhouse to be built on Fredericton City Hall parking lot 

Right now, MacFarlane said, the city is deciding where the new Playhouse will go, especially with the provincial government's building plans.

"They've asked the question of the province, 'What is going to happen to the existing courthouse?'" he said. 

Open to discussing options

Bill Fraser, New Brunswick minister of transportation and infrastructure, said the province understands how important the future of the existing courthouse is for the community. 

"On this particular file, we believe that the City of Fredericton has a role to play and some decisions to make, and our government is open to discussing the future of the Justice Building," he said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"At this time, no decision on our part has been made and it remains an active file for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure."

MacFarlane said the performing arts centre would have to be adjacent to the courthouse, not inside it.

"To be clear, the performing arts centre would not fit inside the old courthouse," he said. "There certainly could be a connection between the two buildings."

Construction to start in 2018

The new courthouse won't open until 2021, while ground for the performing arts centre is expected to break in 2018. 

"Once we get a clearer picture as to what the plan is for the building, what the start date is on the refurbishment of the Centennial Building and the rebuild of the new courthouse, we'll have a better understanding of exactly where we stand," he said. 

MacFarlane said the new Playhouse is exciting and fits well with Fredericton's city centre plan and the redevelopment of the downtown area. 

"As with anything, there are challenges with this," he said. "I think the board's excited about the opportunity."

Where's the money coming from?

In the past, O'Brien said the new performing arts centre has been the number one capital priority for the city, adding it's not feasible to upgrade the aging Playhouse.

The City of Fredericton has committed $14 million to the project. There were also preliminary discussions with both the province and the federal government, and the board has a capital campaign that has not yet started.

"We're moving forward," said MacFarlane.