Arts centre opening draws large crowd

November 15, 2015
Thousands of residents streamed through the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre Sunday afternoon for a glimpse of the new facility.

A five-hour public open house drew all ages to the building, starting a half hour before the doors opened.

"It's really pretty. I especially like the Cairns Recital hall," said Lyla Dierickse, a nine-year old St. Catharines girl with an eye for detail. "It's the combination of wood and stone and carpet."

She was leaving the Film Theatre and checking out the rest of the facility with mom Tina Hornick of St. Catharines.

"I love it. I think it's such an incredible investment for our community," said Hornick, who had been in Cairns earlier this month to see Fortunate Ones.

Hornick said the downtown was alive after the concert with people not used to being out in that part of town. "It felt really vibrant," she said. "I'm really excited."

Many other residents were clearly excited too, packing Partridge Hall while Niagara Sings! were performing to the point people had to be turned away by ushers for fire code reasons.

"It's been a zoo since before we opened," said Executive Director Steve Solski greeting people in a crowded Algoma Central Lobby. "Thousands of people came through the centre today. It's been a great open house. Everyone is thrilled with the venue."

The centre held a grand opening celebration Saturday night for donors, dignitaries and others who bought tickets for singer Serena Ryder's concert in the 781-seat Partridge Hall. Each patron was given a pair of scissors and asked to join dignitaries in cutting a 1,500-foot ribbon.

Solski said Saturday's ribbon cutting was the perfect way of celebrating with the community and Sunday's open house was a great way to end the weekend celebrations.

"You open the door and hope people come. And they've come, obviously."

Sara Palmieri, programming and marketing manager, said an estimated 8,000 people came though based on the number of programs picked up and people signing up for centre emails. Most people stayed 30 to 45 minutes.

For arts organizations who set up booths in the Algoma Central Lobby for the open house, having thousands of people interested in the arts touring the facility was a boost.

Juliet Dunn, who runs the TD Niagara Jazz Festival with husband Peter Shea, said they'd given out hundreds of programs Sunday.

"Ninety-five per cent had not been or hadn't heard of us, which means we really got the word out," she said. "This is the best direct marketing we've ever done."

Karen and John Reynolds of St. Catharines, subscribers to Niagara Symphony Orchestra for over 30 years, were checking out the facility that has replaced Brock's site for performances.

Karen said she hoped the symphony would be able to fill Partridge Hall, which has more seats than Brock's theatre did. She also hoped parking would work out on days when there are hockey games downtown, something others touring the facility also mentioned Sunday.

"It looks great and hopefully it's going to bring a positive to the downtown."

St. Catharines Standard

By Karena Walter
Photo by Karena Walter