Could the city's historic drill hall become a community art space or a downtown business hub? Or maybe both?
Proposals are in with community groups advocating for various uses for the vacant building at 72 Farquhar St.
In June, the city called for potential user groups to step forward with proposals for the former drill hall building.
One proposal for the 157-year-old building is for a community business hub, a space where Kristel Manes, executive director of Business Centre Guelph Wellington, said people can come together, collaborate and build relationships.
“This can include the opportunity to have business advisory services come together with various partners such as The Chamber of Commerce. Some have expressed an interest in participating in that type of space. This could include having an office, or maybe working collaboratively in providing workshops. This can be a one stop shop for businesses to say 'hey, this is the kind of help I need. What supports are there?'” Manes said.
She said the business hub can be used as a triage space where everyone works together, builds relationships, and all resources can be right there for everyone, under one roof.
“People can have a workspace, collaborate, or run a workshop where all partners support each other. Instead of offering their own workshops, why not have one workshop that appeals to a wider audience and with full attendance? We can also support each other on social media, and with advertising and marketing.”
Another proposal from the Guelph Centre for Visual Art, envisions the old drill hall as a dynamic and inclusive community artspace.
In July, the group toured the 14,000 square ft. historic building to see what opportunities it has to offer, including the potential for accessible studio spaces, galleries, resources and workshops to help empower Guelph visual artists.
“We’ve had great discussions with members from the Guelph Centre for Visual Art," said Manes. In our proposal, we referenced the drill hall, not only a business hub, but also co-sharing with the visual art centre.”
She said it’s a perfect win-win.
“We 100 per cent support co-sharing of that space. Can you imagine such a historic space with beautiful art hanging on the walls and artists working away? Because they too are entrepreneurs as well,” Manes added.
“Having that dual capacity of a beautiful space with creative people, the synergies and the energy that can come out of this also being a business support hub as well, is really very interesting.”
The Guelph Centre for Visual Art also provided a letter of support for the business hub proposal.
“So, they are referenced in our proposal, and they also provided a letter of support. And that’s what Guelph is all about. Why be adversarial about it? Why can’t we all come together and see how we can benefit everybody?” Manes said.
“To be able to have a one stop space that is accessible, close to city hall, close to access to all of the services in such a beautiful and established building with a lot of history and culture to it, I think that is a great use of space.”
And of course, Manes said, with the GO train nearby, the building can be a central hub for people coming in and out of Guelph.
“It could encourage more traffic from outside of Guelph Wellington to actually utilize our services and the space as well” she said.
The drill hall was built in 1866 and was initially used as a training facility for Guelph’s voluntary militia, as well as to hold local agricultural shows.
The designated heritage building has been vacant since 2006. The city gained ownership in 2017.
“It’s very attractive. It’s such a beautiful heritage building,” Manes said.
Manes said there has been no response from the city yet regarding the proposal.
“It was submitted on Sept. 25. It is being reviewed by city staff. Respectively, there is alot of budget stuff and other issues and decisions going on right now,” Manes said.
“But regardless, the whole exercise of walking through this collaborative discussion, and the idea of sharing resources, of sharing space, programming and workshops, is something that we will continue to map out whether it is the drill hall or another opportunity. It does not necessarily have to be the drill hall. This collaborative conversation could exist anywhere.”
Manes said a lot of work will need to happen for the vision to come to fruition.
“I certainly appreciate the opportunity of this space,” she said. “I love downtown, and I support downtown. And I love the idea that that this building has so much potential.”
The deadline for submitting an expression of interest was September. City staff will review ideas based on financial viability, community impact and overall feasibility of proposed concepts for use of the property.