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Applebaum firm on saving Empress Theatre
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 10 juin 2010
Photo Marie Cicchini
Arlyle Waring, Empress Community Action Group.

Mayor Applebaum stood up to recent rumours about the privatization of a number of city-owned buildings in NDG, including the Empress Theatre, at the June 7 Côte-des-Neiges--Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough council meeting.

Last week, the Plan directeur de la culture, sports, loisirs et développement social (master plan) was released and many community members mobilized to express their concerns.

At the podium Arlyle Waring of SOS Empress said that the Empress Theatre seemed caught in a movement toward privatization that has alarmed the community.

She introduced herself as a member of a group called the Empress Community Action Group, formed to offer support to the board of directors and the borough. The group met with the Empress board on June 6.

Waring had three requests for the mayor. Applebaum was asked to support the group and assist the centre so that it can maintain and respect the original mandate for the Empress as set out in its bylaws-to restore the facility as a cultural centre. The mayor was asked to support the board in the elaboration of a revised business plan based on a phased development approach that includes strong community engagement. And lastly his support was sought for the development of a revised application to fund the restoration of the building envelope in consultation with the funding agency.

Mayor Applebaum seemed stung. He asked her if the group is an offshoot of the Vision Montreal political party: “You held a press conference last week and started giving out false information that many of our community centres will be closing in August because of the construction of the new Benny Centre.”

He explained that the borough had inherited a white elephant from Vision Montreal. “We are continuing to put in money to support a very good partner organization. Unfortunately, other levels of government have not been supportive. Important individuals and groups that provide cultural facilities in Montreal have been approached and so far they have not been able to come up with a viable project for that facility.”

Cultural centres such as the Outremont Theatre are losing money. An exception is the Segal Centre since Alvin Segal threw in over $10 million to renovate it. The community and businesses are behind the Segal, Applebaum said.

He challenged Waring to come up with proposals. “Don’t start scaring the population by saying it’s going to become condos, just like you’re scaring the population with the closure of our sports facility in August. We’ve invested $1.6 million in this. I would suggest that you stop using the name of a community organization that isn’t even founded and doesn’t have any credibility.”

“We were delighted to work with Peter McAuslan. And I don’t know where you got the information that we said facilities were closing in August. Show me that,” Waring challenged.

“If you haven’t read your own communique then it will be my pleasure to provide it to you. I can tell you that the Empress community group has been working tirelessly and we will continue to work with them,” said Applebaum.

Peter McQueen said there is a possibility that the building could be separated in two. The four-story part of the building could perhaps be secured without securing the rest. He thinks that there is some potential there and that it’s worth exploring.

Another citizen, Michael Shafter, said that beyond renovation costs the venue would have to be supported year after year for its operating costs.

Applebaum replied that the city has a responsibility to provide libraries and also cultural facilities. If the building is not opened by the Empress Cultural Community Association then it will fall into the hands of the Ville-centre.

Peter McQueen said that heritage buildings in NDG are important and would like City services and political leaders to give more consideration to a district where there are so many important heritage buildings. It will be difficult to save them all, he admitted.

[Marie Cicchini ]

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