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Sunday, April 14, 2024
Op-ed: Province and Ottawa need to help fun Royal George repairs
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa hopes people, and upper levels of government, will support the Shaw Festival in its efforts to revitalize the Royal George Theatre on Queen Street. FILE

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa
Special to The Lake Report/NiagaraNow.com

The Shaw Festival is an integral part of our community.

It is not only the cultural centre of Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the Region, but also an economic force that generates over $250 million of economic impact per year for our Town and the Niagara Region.

As a patron and Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake, I am keenly aware of how vital The Shaw is to our collective prosperity, which is why rebuilding the Royal George Theatre is so important.

On a recent tour of the Royal George, I saw firsthand how this building, built a century ago as a temporary lecture and training centre for the army, is now well past its best before date.

The clay foundation has been dissolving for decades, leading to regular severe flooding. The Shaw teams have done the best they could over the years to mitigate the deteriorating foundation, but its current condition is now jeopardizing the operations of The Shaw at its iconic theatre on Queen Street in Old Town.

The Shaw’s use of The Royal George Theatre has made it the beating heart of Queen Street for the last 43 years. 100,000 people see shows there every season, bringing over $70 million annually in revenue to our surrounding businesses. Despite not being a heritage building, its iconic status on Queen must not be lost.

Rebuilding the Royal George will be a significant undertaking. It will require investment from private donors and from all levels of government. We must all come together to support Tim Jennings and Tim Carroll’s ambitious vision.

I am confident it will create a new venue that captures the heritage feel of the current Royal George and renews the spirit of The Shaw in ways that those who founded the theatre in 1962 could never have imagined.

The new vision for the Royal George is to keep the feel of the theatre that we all love so much while rebuilding it as North America’s first net zero and Rick Hansen Gold Certified performing arts building – blazing a trail that will combine heritage aspects with modern amenities, green investments and the highest level of accessibility.

It has been calculated that this rebuild and Shaw’s programmatic expansions will create 850 new, skilled jobs and generate an additional $80 million per year in GDP growth for Niagara.

We all have fond memories of the Royal George Theatre. My father-in-law was an usher there when it was a movie theatre over 60 years ago, and he spoke fondly of his time there. Many community members have a personal connection to the space and I’ve lost count of how many people have shared with me their own stories and memories.

But we are at a crossroads. We need both the Ontario and federal governments to step up and fund their share of this investment at the Royal George. Without this funding, economic benefits can not be gained, job losses will occur and our historic downtown will be in a position that could be very hard to recover from at a time when we are all working so hard to put the pandemic behind us.

The Royal George Theatre is a critical part of who we are as a community. I hope to see it rebuilt and continue to entertain audiences from here and around the world while contributing to our community’s economic and cultural wellbeing.

Together, we can leave a lasting legacy for future generations of residents and tourists to enjoy.

Gary Zalepa is lord mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

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