Community concert hall vision is reborn

Despite previous failed attempts and missed deadlines, Ottawa residents may still get to experience a community concert hall on Elgin Street after a new plan was released June 16.

Julian Armour, the man behind the initial proposal to build the mid-sized concert hall, has decided to try again after the first plan was scuttled last spring. At that time, organizers were unable to raise enough money to meet a deadline set by themselves and city officials, even after a few extensions.

Armour says the problem with the initial plan was the idea of finding one large donor instead of approaching fundraising from all angles, including smaller individual donations.

“First we need to get donations on all levels,” he said. “We have a very large committee that is just focused on fundraising.”

The new committee behind the project is called Friends of the Concert Hall and is headed by Armour, the former director of the Ottawa Chamber Music Society. Many of the people who were involved in the initial plan have returned to help the new committee with their fundraising efforts, along with several others.

The group still plans to build the mid-size hall in a downtown residential and commercial location, ideally at the initially proposed site at 150 Elgin St. Armour says the group has been in communication with the site’s developer, Morguard, and its officials are fully backing the project.

Somerset Ward Councillor Diane Holmes also supports the project revival, saying the hall is “very badly needed” for the city’s artistic community.

“We’re missing many venues and places for companies and musical groups to perform,” she said. “We don’t really have the number of halls that we need and our local groups can’t afford to use the NAC.”

Considerably smaller than the National Arts Centre, the proposed new hall has an estimated construction cost of $33 million, according to Armour. When the original plan was put in place, it received funding commitments from all three levels of government. The pledged money from the provincial and municipal governments was set aside, but the federal government withdrew its contribution when the proposal collapsed.

Although the city’s money remains earmarked for a city arts facility, Armour says the committee isn’t taking anything for granted.

“The project does have bureaucratic support from all levels,” he said. “But we’re not assuming we have anything for funding at this point.”

Peter Honeywell, executive director of the Council for the Arts in Ottawa, believes strong community support is a necessity for the project.

“I don’t think it’ll be done if we can’t prove community support,” he said. “Community donations are what will unlock the federal money.”

The new proposal is still in very early stages, with the steering group trying to generate some early support and get members of the community interested in acquiring memberships, according to Armour.

A full fundraising campaign will begin in September and additional information about the proposal will be released at that time, he added.

Honeywell says Armour is the driving force behind the campaign and may well have the determination to make the hall a reality.

“It’s great to see him back,” said Honeywell. “He has lots of connections and has done a lot of great work in the music community.”

Armour says he’s simply working to fill a key gap in the city’s artistic landscape.

“Ottawa continues to be the only capital city without a concert hall,” he said. “Arts facilities are vitally important for cities to keep people living here, generate an international reputation, and attract tourists.”

Holmes believes the problem with the last proposal was the fact that people believed it would be a hall strictly devoted to classical music, which was never the case.

“We need a committee of people interested in fundraising and making it clear to residents that the concert hall is for all kinds of musical groups,” she said. “It is a city-wide concert hall.”

The Friends of the Concert Hall group includes members from the Ottawa Choral Society and the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and is encouraging performances of all types from classical to acoustic to rock.

Holmes says if the project doesn’t go through this time, another proposal and another chance at the concert hall is unlikely.

“I think this needs to work,” she said. “But things like this don’t just happen overnight, so I’m still hopeful.”

For more information about the Friends of the Concert Hall, or to get involved with fundraising efforts, visit