A City of Calgary committee is giving the green light to spend more than $30 million on three cultural projects: an enclosure for four giant pandas at the Calgary Zoo, a renovation of the now-vacant Calgary planetarium, and an arts incubator in an empty school in the city’s south.
The panda project would cost $16 million, of which the city would pay $8 million from its Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) if passed by council.
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Some critics charge the money shouldn’t be spent during slow economic times, but the CEO says the panda project is a money maker.
“I think it’s the right time to invest in the zoo because we are an economic engine in the city,” Calgary Zoo president and CEO Clement Lanthier said. “Every year we provide $78 million in economic impact. We anticipate with the pandas, that will rise by $18 to $20 million [and] 150 jobs will be created during the construction.”
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A business lobby group claims it’s inappropriate to spend those dollars when people are losing their jobs.
“Small businesses can’t afford to pay for this–for wants and not needs,” said Amber Ruddy of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Having a new panda facility is definitely on the wish list, and not something that is necessary in such a difficult economic climate.”
The committee also approved spending $24.5 million over three years to renovate the Calgary Centennial Planetarium on the westside of downtown. The building would be transformed into a public art gallery operated by Contemporary Calgary, a non-profit organization. The planetarium is a heritage structure originally built in 1967 to mark Canada’s 100th birthday.
The third project would involve the arts group cSPACE operating the King Edward School on 30 Avenue S.W. as a creative hub for arts groups. The city recommends an additional $1.5 million to help transform the sandstone structure.
City council will debate the committee’s recommendations and make a formal decision April 25.
The MSI money has been promised by the Alberta NDP government, but the city won’t know for sure if it’s receiving the funds until the provincial budget details are announced April 14.