Donation of Conrad Centre to Kitchener will
​boost local arts and culture

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By Carrie Debrone
Kitchener Citizen
January 21, 2021​​

​​Local philanthropists Manfred and Penny Conrad and their family foundation have donated the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts to the City of Kitchener.

​​The 24,000 square foot performing arts facility, originally called the King Street Theatre Centre, is located in downtown Kitchener at 36 King Street West.

​​In a virtual announcement January 15, city officials officially thanked the Conrads, agreeing that the generous donation will allow the city to support and boost creative talent and strengthen the already robust artistic sector that contributes so significantly to the local economy and to the quality of life in this region.

​​They also noted that the donation is a key component to allowing the city to realize its Make It Kitchener 2.0 strategy adopted last fall, which aims to help support both a strong creative industries sector and a vibrant city.

​​City-owned performing art spaces already include the Aud, the Centre In the Square and the Registry Theatre, which is operated by JM Drama Alumni.

​​It also owns the building that houses THEMUSEUM (10 King Street W, which is located next to the Conrad Centre), as well as the connected Duke and Ontario parking garage. Last March, it bought the adjacent former BMO bank building (2 King Street West at the corner of King and Queen streets) for $3-million. In a mutual agreement, the city is holding the property for ten years allowing time for TheMuseum to raise about $30-million it will need to finance the tear down of the BMO building and the construction of a new addition.

​​ Describing the Conrad Centre as “an incredible platform that will allow the city to support arts and culture,” Corey Bluhm, Executive Director, Economic Development at City of Kitchener, added that it dovetails completely with the city’s new 2.0 strategy and will allow the city to foster “its own authenticity”.

​​Bluhm thanked the Conrads for “entrusting the city to carry on their vision” by gifting the building to Kitchener.

“Kitchener is extremely thankful to the Conrads and their foundation for this remarkable donation to our community,” said Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “This cultural facility will play a pivotal role in continuing to build and transform both our downtown and Kitchener’s vibrant arts and cultural community.”

​​ “Our community recognizes the transformative power of the performing arts and how they add to the quality of life of our residents,” said Vrbanovic. “As we all look forward to connecting with each other once again post-pandemic, this remarkable gift to the residents of Kitchener will enable us to ensure that our cultural sector is poised to flourish in the coming decades.” 

​​“It makes sense that the city owns it now because the city can do things with it that the Conrad family could not do on our own,” Manfred Conrad said.

​​“I am proud to live in this region. It gives you such a good feeling to give back to your community,” the retired developer said.

​​The Conrad Centre was built in 2001. The Manfred and Penny Conrad Family Foundation purchased the building more than a decade ago.

​​It includes a flexible 300-seat theatre, versatile rehearsal hall, and administrative offices, and has been home to the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony since 2009 when the orchestra moved there from the basement of the Centre in the Square. City officials said the Conrad Centre will continue as the symphony’s home.

​​It has hosted many local theatre groups including Green Light Arts, the Lost & Found Theatre with performances such as the Original Charles Dickens that has become an annual tradition, MT Space Multicultural Theatre productions, Singers’ Theatre performances and a multitude of performances by individual artists, musicians and dancers. It has also been a popular venue for meetings, fundraisers, workshops, seminars, and Nexus Church services over the years.

​​“We are so proud of what the Centre has become - it’s wide and diverse artistic offerings that were intimately housed in such an incredible space. The Centre created so many great opportunities for connecting and enriching our community through music and the arts,” said Conrad.

​​“We are honored to be gifting the Centre to the City of Kitchener to continue on this trajectory of enriching our community through the arts. The Conrad Family Foundation’s philanthropy has always centered on giving back to the community and making the arts central to its charitable giving.”

​​Vrbanovic noted that owning all three arts and culture-focused properties in the downtown core presents the city with a welcome opportunity to investigate how the three buildings can work together to create even more success for the arts community.

​​Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is not known when the space will return to full use, but city officials said they will be talking with arts and culture leaders and stakeholders in the coming months to learn how the building can serve as an even greater asset to the local arts and culture community.

​​“There are so many live performance producers and artists in this community doing world-class work,” said Emily Robson, Manager of Arts & Creative Industries.

​​“This donation presents an opportunity to ensure that this incredible facility remains available to performing arts groups and artists, supporting them in bringing transformative, engaging, and exciting experiences to our community.” 
Penny and Manfred Conrad. Photo by David James Photography