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Empress Cultural Centre not dead
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 1er décembre 2011

The Empress Cultural Centre (ECC) board of directors has issued a press release to clear up popular misconceptions about the future of the Empress Cultural Centre.

“It’s not dead, and in fact, we continue to work diligently on project development and in stewardship of the Empress Theatre. Under the present agreement with the city, the ECC has good legal grounds to keep the building. However, the board has decided not to block progress on forward movement and a conclusion as to who will redevelop the Empress as a cultural venue. The ECC will continue to focus on creating a cultural project that will have maximum benefit for the community,” say president Paul Scriver.

Scriver wanted to dispel the rumour that the ECC was dead because after August 15 they were getting condolence calls like “sorry that it’s finished.” During an interview with ECC board member Jason Hughes, Mike Finnerty of CBC said “sounds like the mayor is telling you that you failed.”

When Les Actualités pressed him to explain this need to set the record straight, Scriver explained: “Well, I don’t think that any of us feel that way at all. This is a necessary step that we have to take because we realize that anything we have to do has to be in partnership with the City. And if they’re not going to play ball with the way it was set up with the previous administration, then we have to change the way the game is being played, so... Mayor Applebaum has been saying for a year that he’s going to take the building back… For us the main objective is to protect the building and have a chance to develop it in a way that benefits the community. We’re not happy about it, but it seems like the pragmatic choice,” he said.

The release also raises the ECC board’s major concerns about the ongoing deterioration of the Empress Theatre over the winter. “This was another determining factor in the decision to give back the building. The borough has $228,000 in their budget earmarked for upkeep of the theatre, which they have never been willing to release to the ECC board. It will be important to hold the borough accountable for securing the building once they repossess it,” they write.

Les Actualités checked with the borough to ask about the funds. Gilles Bergeron, manager of Culture, Sports, Recreation and Social Development, said that the money was budgeted because there was an agreement at the very beginning which will be gone when the building reverts back to the City. “It’s clear we don’t want to lose this amount of money. If there’s urgent work to do to the building, along with maintenance costs, or Hydro like while we were the owners, that’s what I still want it to be used for. But for that I need the Centre City’s approval to do it, as well as the borough council. My gut feeling as a bureaucrat – I don’t think we’re in danger of losing that money,” said Bergeron.

“And for now, the priority is to ask for project proposals from non-profit groups and the community at large for the Empress Theatre, but we haven’t launched that process yet,” concurred Michel Therrien, director of communications for the borough during the joint interview.

Scriver and Hughes both expressed another concern. The City’s proposals for the “Cultural Corridor” for NDG has as its hub NDG Park on Sherbrooke between Marcil and Girouard. They say that the proposal contains no mention at all of the Empress Theatre, which “is located directly across from the park and should be the main component of this corridor culturel on Sherbrooke Street.”

Bergeron replies that “this issue was raised during our commission’s hearings on culture. In that document, we presented a more in-depth view than in the Master Plan, which mentioned two things from a cultural standpoint: 1) enhancing the built heritage in Côte-des-Neiges and 2) Eastern NDG, the cultural corridor between NDG Park and the Empress building – including that building. In fact, we chose the Empress building as the starting point for the corridor. In our view, the two ends are on one side the future NDG cultural centre, which is to open in 2013 and NDG Park. They will be used to promote Sherbrooke St. between Benny and the Empress. That’s the whole idea.”

Bergeron added that the City Centre was very laconic about projects for the boroughs. “They used two sentences, whereas we produced a 20-page document. Clearly, when the time comes to realize some of those projects, we will sit with the community and the cultural milieu in NDG to discuss how to develop this potential corridor. We still want to have a cultural aspect in the building, but we still don’t know what’s going be in it, so we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

Scriver and Hughes conclude their press release by saying that “even though the ECC board has not seen any criteria or guidelines, it is understood that the borough intends to ask for project proposals from non-profit groups for the Empress Theatre. By giving back the building, the ECC board will be able to focus on the further refinement and definition of the proposed Empress redevelopment project, which includes a multi-use performance space, restaurant, office space and gallery space for the arts and other still to be defined activities.”

[ Marie Cicchini ]

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