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Citizens Group losing bid to keep Empress Cultural Centre
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 16 novembre 2011

After 12 years and much creative brainstorming, the citizens’ group that has been trying to revive the Empress Cultural Centre is about to have to relinquish its dream.

The crumbling art-deco structure was once home to the repertory theatre, Cinema V. Montreal bought the building back in 1999 for $500,000. Since then it has invested more than a million dollars in necessary repairs, but it appears that it has lost its taste for spending any more money under the current management.

Michael Applebaum, Mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, said that so far the group hadn’t presented any viable project, and cancelled the centre’s 50-year lease.

The CDN-NDG Borough Council is currently planning to open up the project to different groups through a contest for the best plan for the centre, although the rules and criteria have yet to be made public.

However, Jason Hughes, the treasurer of the Empress Cultural Centre Board, said that Applebaum had never taken their plans for a private–public partnership seriously. The group of volunteers has been working with developer Phil O’Brien and architect Talia Dorsey to come up with just a viable plan.

Members of the Empress Cultural Centre Board say that the city is taking back the project from them at a time when they are really beginning to make headway in securing a deal on private funding.

NDG district councillor Peter McQueen said that the new board had done good work and that he was glad that Applebaum was on side with the group’s cultural vision for the centre. “I’m not discouraged. It sounds like something is rolling,” he said.

Paul Scriver, Chairman of the Empress Cultural Centre Board, said that the group is actually in a good legal position in regards to ownership of the building and that it could challenge the city’s lien on the property.

However, they’ve spent years organizing to get the centre up and running and they really don’t want a fight with the city. McQueen said that it wouldn’t make sense to get into a legal quagmire. “If they have a good project, let them pitch it,” he said.

Hughes envisions the centre as a cultural hub for west-end Montreal, and Scriver has high hopes that by reviving it, this will help to revive the flagging economic prospects of Sherbrooke St. as well.

[ Deborah Rankin ]





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