Efforts to save Empress continue
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 23 septembre 2010
Residents interested in saving the old Empress Theatre got together to start all over again on Sept. 13, after the most recent plan to turn the building into a cultural centre fell through.
“Hopefully, at a certain point we will be able to find a project that’s doable,” CND-NDG Mayor Michael Applebaum told the audience. He also cautioned that it was important to focus on what can be done in the future instead of dwelling on the past.
The previous plan to turn the building into a cultural centre could not be realized after the Quebec government refused funding. The City will regain ownership of the building in November, and will need to fix the roof and the electrical system.
“It’s very frustrating – people have put 10 years into this,” said Arnold Bennett, a member of the Empress Cultural Centre board, a non-profit group that has led revitalization efforts in the past.
The overall consensus of those in attendance was that the building needs to be turned into a cultural centre - however, how exactly that will happen seems to be up to the community.
The audience proposed a few ideas and suggestions. One of them was a public-private partnership, while another was to look at what has been done with theatres in other communities. A visioning exercise was brought up several times.
I thought it was a fairly constructive meeting,” said Bennett. “But we still have to address the problem of the 900-pound gorilla in the room – where do we find the [$11 million]?”
In order to be successful this time, one plan needs to be developed and the community needs to speak with one voice, explained Bennett.
“We can’t have three or four different contradictory demands from the community or we’ll go nowhere,” said Bennett.
The need for a unified position was also mentioned. A second group with a goal of turning the theatre into a cultural centre was formed last June.
Mayor Applebaum made his opinion about the two groups clear at the meeting, explaining that “we have always worked with the board of the Empress Cultural Centre, and even though I recognize that there is a new group… we’ll be speaking with one organization and that is the organization that we’ve been dealing with for a long time now.”
Paul Scriver, a spokesperson for Renaissance Empress, said that the mayor’s position was “almost adversarial.”
“I think the mayor misunderstands and thinks we’re here to cause trouble- we’re working hard and creatively to help the board clean things up,” Scriver said.
Both Bennett and Scriver said they expect the two organizations to work closely together.
Bennett said that the turnout at the meeting was encouraging. “There is a serious community basis for doing something, so let’s see what we can bring to the table,” he added.
Scriver called for a real commitment from the city. “There is a concern on our part that perhaps it’s a tall order for the City, owners of the building, to say to the community ‘you have to come up with a project.”