After two years of searching, Dan Manley and the Haliburton Highlands Arts Centre Foundation (HHACF) has secured a prime location for a new performance facility in the community.

It was announced June 25 that Dysart et al is gifting 14 acres along Wonderland Road, near the intersection to County Road 21, to the group. The deal includes a five-year window where HHACF has to prove work is proceeding, or the land will transfer back to the township.

“This is a momentous day for anyone involved in, or who enjoys the performing arts in Haliburton County,” Manley told The Highlander. “Six years on from the inception of the foundation, finally having a home for a new facility is a huge game changer for us and really skyrockets this project forward.”

Manley said HHACF approached Dysart council in January about the parcel – after being told the township would not consider donating any of the 91.5 acres on County Road 21, just outside the village, it bought last year.

He feels the location is the perfect spot for a future facility.

“It’s a pretty big parcel of land – we’ll be able to do everything we want there, it’s a nice location being close to Haliburton village. We’re really excited about the potential for what this could become,” Manley said.

In November 2022, HHACF released details of an arts centre feasibility study, completed by consulting firm Janis A. Barlow and Associates, which determined the Highlands could support a facility with a capacity of between 300 and 400 people.

The estimated cost was approximately $48 million, though the facility, once up and running, could be expected to generate approximately $1.14 million annually for the local economy.

Manley said he’d like the centre to also include a rehearsal hall, professional backstage facilities, front of house lobby with concessions, music studios, and educational space.

HHACF is now working with Peterborough-based The Dennis Group to move the project forward. Manley said late summer and fall will be spent revisiting an old fundraising study to come up with a strategy to pay for the build. He says the group will be flexible and would consider removing certain elements of the project to bring costs down if necessary.

The foundation will be required to apply to rezone the land and will need to complete various studies before any work can begin. Manley said that process will begin imminently. A soft fundraising campaign will be launched in the winter, when HHACF will also begin with public consultation – to find out what locals want to see in the space.

“Then we’d retain an architecture and consulting team to help us redream the centre as per whatever our latest budget is,” Manley said.

He expects a formal fundraising campaign to kick-off by summer 2025, with design finalized and submitted to the township by the end of next year.

Manley hopes to break ground by the fourth quarter of 2029.

Appearing before council on Tuesday morning, Manley asked if Dysart would consider waiving approximately $17,000 in rezoning and study fees – mayor Murray Fearrey said council would consider the request.

Fearrey felt this project would be a good thing for both Dysart residents and the wider County community.

“It’s a fairly major project – they’re convinced with the study they did that this is viable for Haliburton,” Fearrey said.