Ironwood wary of competing with government-funded hall
The Calgary Folk Music Festival’s plan to build a $5.3 million performance hall on a house lot in Inglewood has many local music fans cheering but the owner of a nearby live venue is wary about competing with a government-funded facility.
The festival plans to start construction of the hall by October and move in next summer using the building as its headquarters for staff and volunteers. As well the festival plans to rent out the acoustically refined venue and hold a handful of events at the hall each month.
“This hall is here for artistic groups across Calgary… as a performance space as a rehearsal space” says Jon Lovink the hall’s executive director. “Small performance spaces like ours are practically unaffordable in Calgary for up-and-coming groups. We’re going to make it affordable for them.” The city approved plans for a hall that can fit 325 people but Lovink says the seating capacity will be less than 250.
The venue is a coup for the neighbourhood. “We’re super excited about that being one of the cultural anchors of Inglewood” says community association president Gian-Carlo Carra. The hall site at 1215 10 Ave. S.E. is in an area being redeveloped with high-density mixed uses and is near a planned LRT station. “It was just a perfect fit” Carra says.
The festival plans to sell drinks at hall performances — and that worries Patrick MacIntyre owner of the nearby Ironwood Stage & Grill. “That’s really in direct competition with what I do” says MacIntyre noting that his business doesn’t enjoy the benefits of government funding or a volunteer workforce like the non-profit folk fest.
“It puts me behind the eight ball really” he says. “Competition is healthy. Unfair competition is not healthy.”
The Ironwood hopes to expand by moving into the historic Garry Theatre (former home of the Loose Moose Theatre Company) on 9th Avenue. S.E. in September which would put the two venues one block away from each other.
The festival has applied for hall funding from all three levels of government — municipal provincial and federal — but Lovink won’t disclose how much government cash the festival is expecting. “It’s too early for me to talk about that.” The folk fest is also running a capital campaign to fundraise for the hall.
The festival has discussed its plans with the community association for years but MacIntyre says he didn’t find out about the hall plans until earlier this year after he did some digging. “It could work out as a positive but there was a complete lack of communication.”
Lovink says he’s sympathetic to MacIntyre’s concerns and adds that while the festival hall may have a small kitchen it won’t operate as a bar or restaurant. “Primarily it would be to help caterers” he says. “We don’t see ourselves in any way as competing with places like the Ironwood. We see huge opportunities of working with people like the Ironwood of helping them in whatever way we can.”
He suggests that after a show ends at the folk fest hall staff could direct patrons to the Ironwood. “It’s in our interest to help us stimulate the local business community and the local music scene.”
Conversely MacIntyre is also hopeful that he can work with the folk fest. “If they haven’t planned on anything food-and-beverage-wise maybe I could get the concession on that” he says. “That would be a nice tradeoff.” (Lovink says the festival is “totally open” to discussing that possibility.)
Jacquie Drew a local country singer who regularly plays at the Ironwood believes there’s more than enough support in the city for both venues. “The same people that would want to come to a show at the Ironwood would probably want to come to a show at the new folk fest building” says Drew who’s also the executive director of the Inglewood Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ). “It’s just more exposure for Inglewood.”
But to expand into the Garry (MacIntyre hopes to keep his existing location as well) the Ironwood first has to convince the city to relax its parking demands for the area. The folk fest had to do the same for its location. “That’s affecting me getting relaxation on the stalls that I need to get into the Garry” says MacIntyre.
Both the BRZ and the community association are supporting the Ironwood’s request for a parking relaxation. “They’re going to be facing a similar if not harder uphill battle” says Carra. “It’s sad that the creation of wonderful dense urban variety type of environments is held up by something as inane as parking.”