DOWNTOWN OTTAWA - The National Arts Centre might cancel plans to upgrade its Elgin Street facade in the wake of news that a planned light-rail station will no longer provide access near the building.
On March 6, the city’s finance committee approved changes to the planned light-rail line, including an alteration to Rideau Station that will remove an entrance to the station on the west side of the canal, right beside the NAC.
The move disappointed the NAC, so much so that spokesperson Rosemary Thompson said the centre might ditch its plans to improve the Elgin Street facade.
“We were so excited (about the station) that we wanted to redevelop the Elgin Street entrance,” she said. “Will that still go ahead? I hope so.”
Thompson was quick to add that it’s too early to say whether the upgrades will still go ahead or not, but she said the intent of the Elgin entrance improvement was to build on a the “good idea” of the nearby station entrance.
“The station was amazing,” Thompson said.
The sprawling, 108,000-square metre NAC complex was constructed in 1969 as a centennial project. It was designed by renowned architect Fred Lebensold of ARCOP Design and the building has been praised as an architectural landmark by some.
But for others, the large brown building is a windowless bunker, and the Elgin Street facade in particular has been a sore point.
Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, in whose ward the NAC is located, was disheartened to hear the centre may backtrack on its plan to upgrade the facade.
“Wouldn't that be a disaster?” she said, adding many people find the NAC’s brutalist-style architecture unappealing.
“That would be a real loss,” she added.
The NAC liked the station because it would have provided almost direct access from the rapid transit line to the concerts and performances at the NAC, but Thompson said the west end of the station was also slated to be an important access to other capital landmarks such as Parliament Hill, Confederation Square and the National War Memorial, as well as several major office buildings and nearby city hall.
The station would have also provided universal access to the Rideau Canal near the NAC – and area that is difficult to get to, especially for people with mobility concerns.
The NAC is sympathetic to the city’s financial situation and understands the need to contain costs in the $2.1-billion budget, Thompson said, but there was no way the non-profit NAC could have contributed any money towards the station project to help the city bring the station closer to its building.