FirstOntario secures St. Catharines PAC naming rights

April 8, 2015
The downtown performing arts centre has a name.

The $60-million facility, set to open this fall, is officially named the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. The announcement was made Wednesday afternoon with city officials, members of the arts community and representatives from FirstOntario Credit Union at Mahtay Café, across the street from the major performing arts venue. The institution contributed $3 million for the naming rights of the centre for 25 years – enabling the performing arts centre fundraising cabinet to exceed its $5-million capital campaign goal.

Carey Smith, chair of the of FirstOntario Credit Union board of directors, said the decision to support the project was an easy one for the board.

"We couldn't wait to entertain the offer. The whole board is very excited. We just wanted to be part of this," Smith said at the announcement.

Smith said the support is about much more than "giving back".

"We're about giving forward," he said. "We wanted to give forward and make St. Catharines culturally rich and financially stable. We believe in St. Catharines and the Niagara area and we want to contribute to the really tangible renaissance."

Kelly McGiffin, president and CEO of FirstOntario Credit Union, recounted the institution's history and growth in Niagara. Some of the roots of the company date back decades ago to when it was the St. Catharines Auto Workers Credit Union, and Family Savings Credit Union. It's the growth of the cooperative in recent history, however, that made such a contribution possible, he said.

"Our cooperative values support the quality of life in communities where our members work and live," he said, noting the institution has seen "tremendous growth" over the last five years that has enabled it to double its number of branches, with a number built in Niagara. "We believe in the potential of this market … our investment in the performing arts centre is a testament to our confidence in Niagara and our commitment to our members and communities."

Smith says the contribution is a lot different than the naming rights for the arena, the FirstOntario Centre, in Hamilton.

"This is something that makes an impact and means something far beyond the name of a facility. It has to do with culture, and it's very different for us," said Smith. "The legacy prevails with this — it has a massive role in improving the economy and businesses here, but also supports a more grassroots, cultural community."

The city started work on the facility in 2007,but the fundraising process was initiated when chairman of the fundraising cabinet Peter Partridge, and his wife Janet, donated $1 million two years ago. Since then, other $500,000 donations have come from Jeff and Kitty Cairns and Joe and Anita Robertson, in addition to other individual and corporate citizens who have supported the campaign to bring it over and above the $5-million goal.

Partridge said it was a special milestone to announce the naming rights.

"It's really the glorious moment like in basketball when they win the game and cut the net down – that's the feeling I had," he said.

The work isn't done yet, however. The film theatre, at $500,000, and the raceway, which will connect the centre with the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, at $250,000, are still available for naming opportunities. There is also the $1-million community campaign launched in March.

"I'm thrilled with the progress of our fundraising … there will be more announcements to come," said Partridge, noting there has been significant interest in the community campaign. "We are mighty proud of the legacy for the arts being created in Niagara."

Executive director Steve Solski said the announcement comes at a perfect time. The centre is preparing to announce its inaugural season in June, so this will allow them to enhance its branding leading into the announcements.

"Having the name to move forward with on an operational standpoint, sets us in a good place to really promote the brand, and also help enhance the membership and audience we need to build for this community," said Solski. "We are focusing heavily on branding, and it will really carry our programming forward."

Niagra This Week
By Scott Rosts
Photo by Scott Rosts/Staff Photo