COLUMN: Full tour of New Westminster's Anvil Centre requires a little imagination

Inside the Anvil Centre, New Westminster
Inside the Anvil Centre, New Westminster's civic facility currently under construction at Columbia and Eighth streets.
— image credit: Rob Newell/Black Press

When the city invited media types for a tour of Anvil Centre last Friday, I had my doubts.

As anyone who’s stood on Columbia Street outside the construction site for the new Downtown civic centre knows, much work remains to be done.

Heck, they’re just putting the glass on the outside now. They’re still adding floors to the top of the office tower that sits upon the four-storey Anvil Centre “podium”—as they call it.

So let’s just say I approached the tour with trepidation. Feared it might be a case of premature celebration.

And to be sure, city staff and the folks from PCL Construction showed us a lot of bare concrete, steel frame and drywall. And on one of the coldest days of the year it was difficult to envision the Anvil Centre as a warm, cosy, welcoming place.

But with an ounce or three of imagination, it was possible to slowly add a few splashes of colour, and possibly even see the Carrara marble on the floors in the atrium and running up the grand staircase next to the four storeys of glass that face Columbia Street.

One feature that could definitely impress visitors is what they’re calling the “canyon.” Many people have no doubt seen the theatre section of the building that faces Begbie Street. This tiled exterior will flow into the atrium area of the Anvil to create a feeling of being both inside and outside simultaneously. Inside,  the theatre wall facing New West SkyTrain station is angled 11 degrees and soars 60 feet tall, and across from it are three 60-foot pillars on the same pitch. At the top, once complete, will be a skylight running the length of this “canyon” from the front to the back of the Anvil Centre. It could be a stunning feature.

The floor level of the theatre is a 10,000-square-foot banquet room that can be split into separate rooms for conference needs. What’s cool is that this space can be opened to the atrium and Columbia Street beyond, which will be great for festivals and other public events.

Above the conference space is the theatre proper, with 350 retractable seats so it can also host banquet events and the like. I wondered how comfortable retractable seats might be, but the city’s manager of civic buildings Terry Atherton assured me they will be. And pains were taken for top-notch soundproofing, according to Ralph Herten of PCL, so with luck you might even forget the train whistle blasts across the street.

If there’s one group of people counting the days until Anvil Centre opens, I’ll bet it’s the folks at the New Westminster Museum and Archives. The 6,000-square-foot museum space on the second floor should provide plenty of opportunity to showcase New West’s extensive history in creative ways. Next to it is 1,400 square feet of space for the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, a nice fit.

View a Flickr photo set from the tour

While not as large as the museum, the 2,000-square-foot art gallery next door finally gets the city a public gallery, where they aim to host comtemporary exhibits. A smaller space alongside is slated to host touring exhibitions, or themed exhibits that tie in with visiting conferences.

The part that interests me, but that wasn’t part of the tour, are the program rooms. On the third floor will be about 8,000 square feet of multipurpose rooms to host everything from painting and dance classes to yoga sessions and music rehearsals.

If programmed well, one can imagine this area being a hive of activity all day and through the evening.

Between that and the cultural aspects of the building—the gallery and the museum—the Anvil shows signs of being an interesting place to visit, and a vital heart in the Downtown.

We’ll see how well the community embraces the Anvil when it opens next year.

Though it looked pretty raw when the media were shown around last week, I assume the city was trying to stoke the fires of anticipation.

Perhaps a little more high brow than the crowds tapping the glass outside Walmart on a Black Friday morning, but no less keen.

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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