Bread and circuses: ampitheatre a boon to summer in the city

Even spectres congregate at World Exchange ampitheatre

It’s the time of year for renovations and construction projects, getting ready for the onset of the busy Ottawa tourism and “good weather” season.

One of the renovation projects I have been keeping an eye on is the World Exchange Plaza Ampitheatre.

In downtown Ottawa, the World Exchange is a well-utilized mixed-use facility. The property is managed by Bentall LP, known for their “responsible property management,” comprehensive green programs, and integrated approach to real estate.

Office towers above, a mall on the main floor and free public parking below, the Exchange is perhaps best known for the Empire Cinema at its heart. The cinema is busy throughout the year, drawing people from Centretown, Lowertown, the Glebe, Sandy Hill and users of the transitway.

Finding such “draws” is something that Spacing Ottawa has been actively talking about lately, especially on the issue of how to create that energy on nearby Sparks Street, where tumbleweeds have been seen rolling through the silent corridor at night.

World Exchange has been sprucing up its outdoor pedestrian garden and popular lunchtime seating area (bordering busy Metcalfe, Albert and Queen), and enhancing its outdoor performance space.

The small amphitheatre is built in the traditional Roman style. Slabs of triangle rock are stacked to create the stage and the granite ringed seating rises up to meet the second floor of the building. Granite plaques have been permanently installed on the seats with the names of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Business Persons of the Year –adding a nice touch of recognition to the community forum.

The surprisingly intimate stage is nestled in front of a curtain of trees that borders Metcalfe. A simple iron frame outlines the stage shell.

In the past, the stage has hosted small arts performances, a lunch-box series of music concerts and most notably the International Jazz Festival in June. Bum pads are provided for the granite seats, as people gather for a breath of fresh air and art.

This is smart. What indoor and outdoor theatre spaces do is draw two similar audiences, two times of the year, so that there is always something happening at the Exchange.

Flex space is an important trend. So too, is mixed-use corporate (or residential) and community space that demonstrates a values-based, holistic approach to public facilities. It demonstrates how a tower block can be a friendly giant and also a vibrant community gathering space both during and outside of work hours, all year round.

As the tulips pop up this spring, I am excited to see what will appear on this newly refurbished city stage and how it will draw audiences and energy back into downtown.

photo by Steve Brandon

One comment

  1. As long as most of Sparks Street is government-owned, it is doomed. Just look at the (unforgiveable) loss of the spectacular Bank of Montreal, the last “Temple of Commerce” bank in Ottawa, one of a few surviving such buildings in Canada…. now to be used for government receptions.

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