Empress Theatre Foundation calls on NDG residents to write to their elected officials
Montréal December 22, 2016 – The Empress Theatre Foundation is calling on NDG residents to write to elected officials to help save the abandoned theatre. The campaign aims to encourage the borough council to issue a new agreement for the building’s revitalization.
In 2012, Cinéma NDG (sister organization to the Empress Theatre Foundation) was granted conditional permission from the borough to renovate the building, reviving it as a neighbourhood cinema and community space and in the process revitalizing a struggling section of town. By the end of 2015, the group had commitments for 75% of the $12 million needed to renovate the NDG landmark. They secured contracts for the renovation work. They built a solid governance structure and demonstrated their commitment and ability to oversee the project through construction and into self-sustaining operations.
Despite these accomplishments, the borough still insists that the Foundation raise more of necessary funds before ownership is transferred. This is the core condition in their ‘conditional permission.’ “We have to be careful not to give them an advantage that we wouldn’t give to other citizens,” says borough manager Stephane Plante.
But this is contrary to standard practice in real estate development, says George Coulombe “Typically a maximum of 70% is required to begin construction, enabling the project to generate interest and momentum for the remaining funds to be raised.”
“They’ve created an impossible Catch-22 situation,” says Executive Director Elaine Ethier. “Banks won’t agree to a loan if we don’t own the property, and we can’t own the property if we don’t get a loan. This is the only thing blocking the success of this project.”
After many months of negotiations, the original agreement between the borough and the Empress Theatre Foundation expired in June 2016. However, after recent discussions with Mayor Copeman, he has agreed to consider issuing a new agreement once the Foundation submits its revised business plan and financial projections.
Only weeks ago, a Montréal heritage building famed for Canada’s first film screening was destroyed by fire, raising new concerns about the state of the Empress. The Mayor’s office took additional precautionary security measures to ensure that the Empress will not suffer the same fate. There is a willingness to collaborate between the borough’s leader and the Foundation, there is hope.
In the meantime, the Empress Theatre Foundation calls on NDG residents to write to the Mayor in support for efforts to bring the building back to life. “We need a new and more realistic agreement from the borough. Our hope is that this campaign will send a strong signal to the borough administration that the community believes in this project and doesn’t want to wait another 2 years or more for it to come to life.”
“We need to set the record straight. Our project remains strong and absolutely viable, but we can’t do it without the community. After all, that’s who this project is ultimately for. The Mayor needs to know that NDG residents want this project and cherish our heritage buildings.” says board president Kim Fuller.
About the project: The Empress Theatre Foundation is a unique urban renewal project aimed at reviving the Empress Theatre on Sherbrooke Street West, across from Girouard Park. The Foundation is working to establish a new hub of cultural and artistic activity for the community, including educational, social and cultural activities that will stimulate the local economy.
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