SCHOOL BOARD ANNOUNCES IT HAS NO INTENTION OF PRESERVING 60 YEAR OLD CULTURAL GEM

At the School District 40 Board meeting on September 29, 2009, an Engineer’s report was presented to the Board of Trustees detailing the potential cost of improvements to the Massey Theatre at a price tag of $18,000,000.  The replacement cost of the busy 1260 seat, largely self-funded theatre is estimated at $100,000,000. 

Massey Theatre Society, the theatre’s operator for the past twenty five years had no opportunity to contribute to the report or provide their professional perspective on the issues detailed in it.  Items such as replacement of seats are included within the estimate.  Such a project, while it may be desirable, is by no means imperative to the ongoing operation of the theatre which provides a variety of programs to support community and professional arts groups and other large scale gatherings. 

“There are a number of ways to perceive the engineer’s recommendations and develop a plan to complete the upgrades over a realistic period of time.  This report provides no good reason for the theatre to suddenly be viewed as a burden on the community, when, in fact it is a tremendous asset,” said Michael Redmond, Chair of the Massey Theatre Society Board of Directors.

Most Western governments are recognizing the importance of investing in the arts and cultural sector as a significant element of economic stimulus strategies.  In fact no functioning live theatre has yet been intentionally torn down in Canadian history.  The Arts and Cultural sector provides many of the skills and professional training to serve the needs of the creative industries. 

A land swap with the City of New Westminster has been proposed wherein the Massey Theatre would transfer into the City’s hands while the Mercer Stadium would transfer to the School District as a future school site. 

The City of New Westminster commissioned and adopted a Theatre Study in 2008 which included the following recommendations:

“Massey is one of only two theatres of its size in Metro Vancouver. It is vital to large scale producers like the Royal City Musical Theatre, Royal City Youth Ballet and New Westminster Symphony and to regional producers and presenters due to its size and capabilities. It also serves a growing community of diverse cultural producers and audiences. It has capable professional management and stable, committed board governance. There is a strong community commitment to preserve, protect and reassert the Massey’s position as a premier regional theatre facility. The community looks to the City to provide leadership and stability for what is regarded as a civic asset. 

Gaining long term certainty for Massey is a necessary and wise course of action.  There is the potential of creative redevelopment of the “small gym” into a black box rehearsal and performance space of about 160 seats. The Society is also negotiating with the School District to take responsibility for additional space adjacent to the theatre. Combined with existing space already operated by the Society, it totals 63,600 square feet of programmable, community service space. This potential can be regarded as a unique opportunity for the City.  The issue that must be resolved is the ownership of the building and the land it sits on. Until that is resolved between the City of New Westminster and School District #40, the Massey Theatre Society cannot plan the future of this civic asset and the community has no certainty. The study team leaves to the City the manner in which the civic “ownership” or trusteeship of Massey Theatre will be achieved but it recommends that this question be addressed in a timely fashion and, in any case, in no more than three years.

Recommendations:

1. The City of New Westminster to take the initiative and proactively negotiate
community ownership or trusteeship of Massey Theatre and adjacent facilities if they become available.

2. Capital funds will be invested to address the functional and cosmetic needs of the facility. In excess of one million dollars in Provincial Infrastructure funding was granted to create civic arts related facilities at 8th Street and 8th Avenue.  The funds are site specific. It may be appropriate to use this funding for Massey allowing additional funds to be leveraged from senior levels of government. This would enable improvements more quickly.

3. Access to the theatre is a challenge for many users who require a lower rental cost to support their endeavours. Programming for local audiences is also a challenge. Increased operating funds should be provided to build and sustain professional programming, market the venue to local and regional audiences and allow greater access to the facility.

4. The Massey Theatre should be designated as the Civic Theatre of New Westminster and the City should become a strong partner, on behalf of its citizens, in this community asset.”
  
The City of New Westminster has remained silent on the emerging risk to the theatre, perhaps because its current focus is on developing a new civic centre for 2013.  The entire report can be read at:

http://www.nwpr.bc.ca/parks%20web%20page/pdf%20programs/Theatre%20Study%202008%20(web).pdf

“There is no reasonable comparison between Massey Theatre and the proposed new space.  Anyone who thinks there is simply has not considered the matter from an informed perspective,” said Redmond.

With a population of 58,000 citizens, it is unlikely another purpose built theatre will ever be planned for New Westminster effectively putting an end to the community’s long held artistic traditions significant successes in the performing arts.  The loss of economic generation provided by the large theatre through the over 225 well attended annual events would further deplete the community’s economy.

“A decision to demolish a thriving arts facility such as the Massey Theatre would lead to a loss of civic pride and the erosion of the distinct character of our community.  When the imagination of our citizens fails to be expressed the appeal of living in this City is stripped away.  The notion that the costs of improving Massey Theatre are too high is, frankly, ludicrous given the theatre’s obvious value,” said Jessica Schneider, Massey Theatre’s Executive Director.

The Massey Theatre Society earns 82% of its operating revenues through its activities and attracts an average 100,000 audience members annually from throughout the region.

The Massey Theatre opened on December 16, 1949 as the largest theatre on the B.C. mainland.  It will celebrate its 60th anniversary this winter, likely in the midst of a campaign for its preservation.

For further information contact the theatre at jessica@masseytheatre.com
 

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