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Pegging down the Jazz Fest tent 

It’s the end of an era: The new Halifax Central Library means the end of the Jazz Fest tent at the corner of Queen and Spring Garden.

After this year's Halifax Jazz Festival wraps up, it's curtains for the tent at the corner of Queen Street and Spring Garden. "Right now the jazz festival takes up that whole corner. Clearly that's going to change," says Susan McLean, deputy CEO and director of public services for Halifax Public Libraries.

The new Central Library will stand on that corner. How the building will "look and feel," as McLean puts it, will be the subject of a public meeting on Thursday, July 8. Architects will share preliminary drawings. A draft plan comes out in October, the final version in November. Construction could start as early as spring 2011, agrees McLean.

"There are plans for a plaza out front; there are plans for a park out back," says McLean, though she won't say if these areas will host fest performances.

The jazz festival is "one of many things we would like to be able to accommodate," McLean says, adding the new library must be many things to many people with membership in different groups and organizations. "We see this as public space. That's why we're doing so much consultation."

An indoor venue, with some aspect of the building's interior remaining "flexible" enough so that it could provide all manners of performance space, is a possibility too.

"We're looking at an auditorium. That's what we're calling it now," McLean says. "People want events. They want a variety of cultural experiences."

Lulu Healy, artistic director of JazzEast, which organizes the Halifax Jazz Festival, says removing the tent is going to be a challenge. "We're going to have to re-imagine, really, the whole festival footprint," she says. "There really isn't a place anywhere in the city that has that layout. We can't just pick up our little village and move it to another parking lot. There really isn't another one like it downtown and it's really important for us to stay downtown."

The festival tent as it stands now, where it's been for 13 years, can accommodate a maximum crowd up to 1,300 spectators. People drift over to the tent for lunch-hour shows, or after work. "So much of our traffic is walk-up," says Healy, "especially during the day."

JazzEast has anticipated pulling up stakes and decamping elsewhere in the downtown for at least two years. The organization has been researching possible sites but Healy says she can't reveal them now. "Every single site we're looking at brings up different considerations we haven't had to deal with because our site has been...perfect. We've just gotten so used to it and it's gotten so easy: We know how to run it."

On the waterfront, heaters and their costs are incurred because of cooler temperatures, responds Healy. They eliminated the Common because rain during the festival's run would turn grass into mud. Blocking off a street or holding a series of street parties are under consideration.

Still, Healy hopes the library will include an indoor performance space. "I was really impressed by the things they were thinking of doing," she says of a meeting in early June. She recommended a facility with "a stage, proper lighting and stuff like that."

The decampment "does affect what I want to book and what fits in different venues," Healy continues. "I need to start looking at that right away after the festival. We should know by the end of the summer what we're going to do."

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