Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Update on Centennial Planetarium space

The City of Calgary has been pleased to work with Contemporary Calgary over the past three years to work towards their vision to see the transformation of the former Centennial Planetarium (the former location of the Science Centre) into a future art gallery. This iconic building has both heritage status and symbolic value for Calgarians.

In 2014, Contemporary Calgary was identified as the highest ranking candidate in the Request for Expression of Interest that sought ideas on arts, culture and heritage users of the building, although no applicant had the financial and organizational capacity to renovate and operate the planetarium. At the time, Contemporary Calgary was a recent amalgamation of three organizations (Art Gallery of Calgary, the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary). The City developed an innovative approach with Contemporary Calgary to enable them to phase their move into the building to coincide with their development as a single organization, and to facilitate their capacity to progressively improve the planetarium space.

This innovative plan included:
  1. The City renovating the planetarium to base building standard for $24.5 million by 2018.
  2. Leasing 8,000 of the 42,000 square feet of the planetarium to Contemporary Calgary now to replace their existing space.
  3. The City operating the renovated planetarium for an interim period as a multi-tenant cultural facility.
  4. Allowing Contemporary Calgary to lease the entire building after the interim period, subject to Contemporary Calgary satisfying the conditions described below.
This approach would relieve Contemporary Calgary from the burden of having to operate the entire 42,000 square foot building and responsibility for the base building renovation. This would allow Contemporary Calgary to focus on fundraising and building their operational capacity.

The City shares Contemporary Calgary’s vision to become the prime tenant for the building once key milestones and criteria have been met. From the beginning of our discussion with Contemporary Calgary, The City has made it clear that in keeping with Council-directed policy, the following criteria must be met:
  1. The Society provides confirmation that it has raised 90% of the capital dollars required to undertake tenant improvements for the project (current estimate to upgrade the planetarium from base building to gallery status is $32 million).
  2. The Society provides evidence, through audited financial statements and business plan, that its operating model will not require annual operating funds from The City. 
  3. The Society’s business plans, financial statements and governance structure meet The City’s requirements for leaseholders of City property.
As a diligent steward of public property, The City requires all leaseholders to meet these conditions before entering into long-term lease agreements. Contemporary Calgary was aware of these criteria and requested that these criteria, along with confirmation that The City supported Contemporary Calgary’s vision, be set out in a letter from The City to share with potential donors. This letter was provided to Contemporary Calgary on Aug. 25, 2017.

To help Contemporary Calgary achieve its vision, The City:
  1. Undertook, at a cost of $2.3 million, a study of the requirements to bring this 50 year old structure up to the standard of a contemporary cultural space.
  2. Developed a model for the planetarium as a multi-tenant cultural hub that would enable Contemporary Calgary to achieve Phase 1 of its plan, while simultaneously achieving the milestones that would enable it to enter into a longer lease for the entire building.
  3. Allocated $24.5 million of Cultural Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding to renovate the base building. 
  4. Accepted the Society’s proposal to lease a portion of the building for three years with an option to renew, and to renovate 8,000 square feet of space to create a gallery for contemporary art. Access to parking and service areas are including in the short-term lease.
  5. Enabled Contemporary Calgary to hold fundraisers in the building over the past years by absorbing the opening and operating costs for these fundraisers.
The partially-leased space, named “Temporary Contemporary,” was considered Phase 1 of achieving Contemporary Calgary’s vision. This phased approach was mutually agreed to, and promoted to Calgarians through Contemporary Calgary’s successive fund raisers.

Over the past few years The City has made a significant investment in time and finances to support Contemporary Calgary’s vision, and is fully prepared to continue supporting this organization as it builds capacity to achieve its long-term vision. However, we would respect Contemporary Calgary’s decision to not proceed, and will continue our renovation of the Centennial Planetarium to become a multi-tenant cultural hub.


  1. How does it cost $2.3 million to study the requirements of bringing an older building up to a modern standard? Can we get a detailed cost breakdown that explains this?

    1. In addition to the normal work required to prepare a building when tenants have departed, there were contracts awarded to consultants who undertook work that included a thorough Building Condition Assessment of the structural and mechanical state of the building. Also required was an investigation into the special considerations that needed to be taken into account when upgrading a heritage building, as the planetarium was The City of Calgary’s Centennial project.

  2. Where can others log their interest if the building becomes available again? For long term lease of whole?

    1. Hi - please send expressions of interest to Sarah Iley, Manager of Arts and Culture, at culture@calgary.ca