Vancouver theatre set to become a gym
Jon Woodward, CTV British Columbia
Published Sunday, November 17, 2013 6:22PM PST
Last Updated Monday, November 18, 2013 10:09AM PST
The fight to save the historic Hollywood Theatre from being turned into a two-story fitness gym must now go at high speed because of what may be an oversight by Vancouver City Council.
A 75-day reprieve offered by the council earlier this week to find new solutions for the building will last only one day short of the January 21 council meeting, according to Betty Murphy, a former development officer at the city of Vancouver.
“To get an agreement it has to go to city council,” Murphy said at a public meeting Sunday afternoon. That means the Save the Hollywood Coalition would have to present solutions to the previous meeting, on December 17, she said, giving the group only a month to make a deal.
Audience members packed into St. James Community Square for the meeting were unimpressed, including a high-profile speaker at the public microphone, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra musical director Bramwell Tovey.
“If our governments have enabled us to put out the interior of a heritage building giving us only 75 days’ notice, which apparently isn’t even 75 days, then there is something wrong with the system here,” Tovey said.
“Places like this are gems architecturally. They need to be protected,” Tovey added.
The 650-seat landmark on Broadway is the longest-running family-owned theatre in North America. It was built in the 1930s by the Fairleigh family, which operated it until it closed in March 2011.
The new owner leased it to a church, whose lease is expiring at the end of November. That was the earliest the building could have been gutted before the city offered a 75-day reprieve, according to Save the Hollywood organizer Mel Lehan.
“They’ll take out the seats, rip out the stage, rip out the projection room, tear down the curtains and put in a fitness gym,” Lehan said.
Lehan said he believes the group can come look to theatres that have changed with the times for a business model, such as the Rio Theatre, which sells alcoholic drinks during concerts as well as showing movies.
“We would turn it into a multipurpose community and cultural gathering space. Plays one night, movies the next,” he said, adding that – as in the past – he would welcome weddings and other celebrations.
Lehan said anything the group comes up with should be able to provide the landlord with fair rent and may save him $2 million in renovation costs, adding the huge turnout this afternoon suggests the community support is strong.
“We cannot lose this and we will not say no and we’ll save it,” he said.