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Hamilton heritage building to transform to serve a modern purpose

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Hamilton heritage building to transform to serve a modern purpose

A new life is envisioned for a heritage building in Hamilton whose facade is as familiar to residents as a Tiger-Cats logo.

The New Vision United Church — you know, the big, red-brick church at the corner of Main and McNab — is poised to transform into The Music Hall, a 1,000-seat, socially engaged spiritual, music, arts and community venue in the heart of downtown Hamilton.

The church, which was erected in the 1860s and served as a methodist church for a number of years, became home to the New Vision United church back in 2014.

Since then, the congregation has become an outreach hub for people sleeping rough in Hamilton’s streets, for LGBTQ2+ and racialized communities and for families in need.

In 2016, the massive church was centre stage for a benefit concert put on by by Supercrawl featuring The National to raise money for Syrian refugees.

It was following the success of that event that the century-and-a-half-old building could serve an even bigger purpose for the community.

“After the concert, a light bulb went off and the New Vision congregation knew the space was meant for something else,” said Jeremy Freiburger, the founder and Cultural Strategist for Hamilton’s Cobalt Connects, the non-profit creative community incubator that has teamed up with New Vision to help make The Music Hall a reality.

“The idea is to create a music venue that is emblematic of all the things that make our city great and supports the broader community.”

Cobalt, building on their experience with the rebirth of the Westdale Theatre and other heritage venues in and around Hamilton, worked alongside leaders of the congregation and with a group of volunteers, and paid experts like architects and engineers, to develop a path forward that aligns with New Vision’s values and the broader arts, cultural and economic goals of the City of Hamilton.

“They wanted to balance the values of the church and the community and have the mix of values come together in one space,” Freiburger said.

The result is a mid-sized, 1,000-seat music venue, that will also offer smaller spaces for rent for community groups or events and will incorporate space in the lower hall for the New Vision congregation to worship. The full project brings the space up to code, adds gender neutral washrooms, a new elevator and loading area, as well as all the technical needs of a thriving arts venue.

There is also space for a possible restaurant and vendors.

In June, in what is considered to be a major step forward for the project, the church earned its heritage designation, which opens up the doors to a variety of finding prospects for the project.

Ultimately, though, the cost for making The Music Hall sing is around $2 million, much of which is going to be fundraised.

Earlier this month, initiatives got underway to get the financial ball rolling.

The team behind the project launched a website and announced several fundraising initiatives.

Among them are a limited-edition double album featuring music by local artists, and a locally designed and printed t-shirt, a limited-edition hand-pulled print, or a seat dedication.

Donors can also just donate and receive a tax receipt in return. Also, because for many a monetary donation isn’t possible right now, volunteers are always needed.

“Every single donor counts to us and we are open to ideas,” Freiburger said, noting that once renovations get underway, tradespeople will be in demand.

“If you want to volunteer, we will find something for you to do.”

Many might wonder why in the middle of a global pandemic that has forced people to remain apart a project like this is even under consideration.

Freiburger points out that we won’t be in this reality forever, but even if we are, the new venue can accommodate smaller crowds at a safe distance.

“It’s got to be now,” he said. “When we’re ready to get back together again, this space will be welcoming us.”

To donate or to learn more about the project, visit the website.

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