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Contemporary Calgary finds new home at old science centre

For decades, the former Centennial Planetarium saw busloads of students arriving for field trips, and a new deal struck by the City and Contemporary Calgary means that tradition should continue.

The building which held the planetarium and later Telus World of Science will now be home to a contemporary art gallery.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was on hand for the announcement at city hall today, announcing that the city was making a $24.5 million investment to bring the building up to modern safety codes.

“It will be Contemporary Calgary’s job to take it to the level to make it into a world class gallery,” said the mayor.

That task is going to require even more cash. An additional $24-$32 million dollars is needed, according to Contemporary Calgary chair Jay Mehr.

“AS a non-profit society, we’ve already done a lot of work for the next phase of our journey,” said Meher. “We’ve paid off millions of dollars in debts, and enabled us to enter today with 4 million dollars and no debt to drive our vision.”

That fundraising drive will take place over the next year. The city hopes to have the building ready for tenant improvements by December of this year.

Contemporary Calgary is an amalgam of three other Calgary art institutions: The Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of Calgary, and The Museum of Contemporary Art.

The planetarium was completed in 1967 as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations. It is now on Calgary’s heritage inventory, and is noted as one of the city’s best examples of Brutalist architecture. In 1984 it began housing the Telus World of Science, which was relocated and renamed Telus Spark in 2011.

During the 2017 municipal election, talks between the city of Calgary and Contemporary Calgary for a lease agreement broke down, not long after the Calgary Flames announced they had walked away from the negotiating table over an arena deal.

On Tuesday, Nenshi did not go into detail about how the talks were rekindled, but said the city has certain principles that it has to adhere to when signing leases with partners.

“Fundamentally, the lease that was signed today still adheres to all the principles the city finds important, as did the last one,” said the mayor.

He said the differences are around the term and scope of the lease, which has a 25 year term with a 10-year extension available to Contemporary Calgary.

The city will still own the building, and it will remain in the city’s heritage inventory.