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Trespassing at the Empress?
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 4 novembre 2010
Photo Marie Cicchini
Patrick McDonnell says Warren Allman phoned him later and told him that the door was left open by the cultural people for the SNC-Lavalin engineers who are evaluating the building.

The first snowfall of the season came down on the unsecured roof of the old Empress theatre on Sherbrooke St., prompting disappointed Renaissance Empress members to ask for action at the Nov. 1 council meeting.

A member of the group had been hoping that CDN-NDG Mayor Michael Applebaum would make good on a promise made last summer. “I find it worrisome that the borough is taking so long to deal with this matter,” said Bogdan Karasek during question period.

The Centre city alloted $225,000 to the borough for investments in the cultural facility in the Empress building, read another member while referencing a letter written by the mayor. “What is getting in the way of being able to free up some of that money?” asked Sharon Leslie.

The building has been deteriorating for a number of years now. While the SNC-Lavalin engineers are evaluating the building any hopes of preventing further damage being done to the structure by cold and moisture are fading.

Mayor Applebaum suggested a change of strategy. Instead of coming to ask for money each month, Renaissance Empress should start looking for a viable usage for the building and for the proper tenants. Sharon Leslie could not agree more, but argued that fixing the roof should be the priority in order to protect the building.

The mayor said that the borough wishes to deal directly with the Empress Cultural Centre, and that a meeting is planned at a later date that is satisfactory to the non-profit organization. The purpose is to discuss and determine how to reopen it sooner rather than later as a useful building for the city.

A third resident, who addressed council on this issue a few minutes earlier, doesn’t agree that the heritage building should be saved. Patrick McDonnell claimed during the recent 2011 CDN-NDG budget presentation that there is a surfeit of theatre facilities in the area.

During question period, he confided that he entered the building by Old Orchard Ave. around 1 p.m. last Friday and that no one was around. He didn’t know the door had been left open for the engineers. “I looked around, went upstairs and took pictures. Can the City tell me whether the building is inspected and safe?” asked the resident who distributed photos of his findings to the local media.

Mayor Applebaum said the borough director will check to see if fire inspections are public information before replying to the resident.

NDG district councillor Peter McQueen remarked that Mr. McDonnell is neither a fire marshall nor a fire expert, and that trespassing into such buildings to assess their condition is not only unfair, but a dangerous pursuit which is not worth it. “Heritage buildings are in various states. This one has heritage status... we agreed that it’s not in the best state,” he said.

Indignant, Bogdan Karasek questioned McDonnell’s motivation, and declared that he was trespassing and taking illegal photos. “We had engineers on the site. If he wanted to talk to somebody, they were at the front door,” he exclaimed.

Mayor Applebaum promised Sharon Leslie that he would think about engaging in a joint community planning process for the three facilities where cultural vocations are being developed: the Benny Cultural Centre, the Maison de la culture de NDG, and the Empress Cultural Centre.

[Marie Cicchini]

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