Open Letter from Brent Belsher to Vancouver Mayor and Council

May 26, 2013

Dear Mayor and Council,

Since learning of the imminent sale of The Centre to Westside Church in the past 10 days, I have worked at trying to raise awareness around this issue and am hopeful that something can be done to stop the sale.  I started a Facebook page last Friday and already over 1100 people have liked it and are following what is going on. PleaseDon'tCloseTheCentre on Facebook.

There is also a petition that has been started and signed by over 400 people which will be presented to you and to the church at the upcoming council meeting.

I know it is difficult for the city to step into a private sale but I urge you to be as creative as possible to see what can be done. A little pressure from the City may help us in our quest to save this cultural asset from being lost forever.

I have done a lot of research over the past week and and have learned many interesting things. I think a listing of some of the highlights may help you realize that this is something we should address.

  • The theatre has been operating in the black for the past 5 years.
  • In 2012 there were over 100 booked nights at The Centre.
  • The theatre was not for sale . The owners were approached by Westside Church in February to begin negotiations to buy.
  • Over the years there have been a number of offers to buy the theatre by people who want the theatre to remain a theatre but they have all been refused by the current owner.  
  • There are people right now who want to buy The Centre and keep it operating as a theatre.  Parties are trying to contact the owners and see if they can open up the deal.
  • The non-refundable deposit that has been paid by the church could be reimbursed by the new owners
  • The unconfirmed price that The Centre is being sold for to the church is 6.5 million dollars.  
  • The assessed value on the land last year was 11 million.
  • Garth's original construction cost was approximately 15 million from the province and 10 million from the bank.
  • No property taxes will be paid on this land if this sale goes through. 

Bookings at The Centre were only getting stronger over the past few years and could continue to do so under new ownership. Just this fall The Centre was scheduled to have one week runs of both Chicago and American Idiot, 16 days of the Vancouver International Film Festival, Stuart McClane, Goh Ballet's Nutcracker with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for 6 shows and a number of music concerts as well. 

All of these shows have had cancellation notices from current owners and have been given no indication from Westside Church that their contract might be reinstated.  

One of the most frustrating discussions for me around the sale are the many people weighing on this topic and speaking about the flaws of the theatre. While I know that the theatre is not perfect all of these comments are just distractions to the fact that we are about to lose a major cultural asset. No theatre is perfect and neither is this one but it is a very good theatre and in many ways is the best theatre in our city. Loading dock -  countless shows have loaded into the theatre over the years (including my own and others I have been involved with). The loading dock is completely workable. Wing space - while narrow is fine and workable as is. Shows of all sizes have performed on that stage. Lobby area - have people been to New York City and seen a show there? Theatres have non-existent lobbies there. While the lobby isn't huge it is fine. The Stanley and Vogue's lobbies also get crowded with sell out performances - should we let churches buy them too? The current owners put hundreds of thousands of dollars into upgrading the acoustics in The Centre about 10 years ago. The acoustics are great. 

The change of use that this church will make to this space will be a severe blow to Vancouver's Cultural Precinct. Performances will be cancelled, jobs will be lost, economic spin off to surrounding businesses will cease to occur. While The Centre's programming was always inclusive and welcoming to all Vancouver's people. This church has already made it clear that it has a narrow view of the world being against equality for women and seeing homosexuality as sin.  Would Westside Church allow the same inclusive programming that has been going on at The Centre over the years? I think not. Shows would most likely judged by some sort of Biblical code. Is this what we want for our city?

Unfortunately I am travelling out of the country right now and unable to attend Council on Wednesday. But I urge you to have staff examine this deal and see if there is any way that we can save this building from being lost.  

With Respect,

Brent Belsher
brent@belshers.ca
604 209 6337

 

Brent Belsher is a Vancouver based arts consultant working mostly with dance companies. Among the companies he works with he is the tour manager for Kidd Pivot and RUBBERRBANDance Group. He has also started producing shows bringing the National Ballet of Cuba to Vancouver, as well as Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance last year.

 

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