Theatre Trio Develops Proposal for City-Owned Art Space

Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun
Published December 4, 2012  

Three theatres are working together on a plan they hope will enable them to share a brand-new 44,000-square-foot arts space initially intended for the now-defunct Vancouver Playhouse.

If all goes well, Pacific Theatre, Arts Club Theatre and Bard on the Beach will pay $1 a year for a 10-year lease on the city-owned space in a four-tower False Creek condo development.

The city had to find a new tenant for the space after Vancouver’s Playhouse Theatre shut down last spring when it ran out of money.

The city is saying little about the selection process, but representatives of the theatres say they are determining whether they can share a space meant for one theatre.

They’re also looking into whether they could raise the estimated $8 million to $12 million needed to outfit the concrete shell at 140 First Avenue West being developed by Wall Financial Corp., near the former Olympic Village.

“It’s expensive, and we need to know how we are going to pay for it,” said Frank Nickel, Pacific Theatre’s production and business manager.

The trio have commissioned two feasibility studies on the space and cost challenges. The concept being examined includes a 250-seat studio theatre and five rehearsal halls to accommodate the three groups.

The studies are expected to be complete by January, after which the theatre boards will determine whether their proposal makes sense.

Nickel said the move out of the basement of a church would be a “game-changer” for Pacific Theatre, helping it become a premier, mid-size company.

Arts Club Theatre executive director Howard Jang said there is a lot of work to be done on how three theatres can work in one space.

But if the proposal goes ahead, he said, he’s excited the theatre would be the first “cultural landmark” in the former Olympic Village area.

City staff refused to say whether it even had a proposal for the arts space.

“Staff will report back to council with a recommendation once negotiations are complete,” Brenda Prosken, general manager of community services, said in an email.

City officials would also not reveal any details of the original agreement for the large arts space with the developer.

But city councillor Geoff Meggs said the space would have been made available through the usual process of a developer providing amenities such as a day care, arts space or affordable housing in exchange for extra housing density.

But he said making arts space available this way is not a “silver bullet” for the cash-strapped arts community because it’s expensive to outfit a building and operate it.

Meggs noted on his website during the summer that council had learned in a July 25 memo that a committee of city staff and outside experts had endorsed the proposal from the three theatres. However, the memo noted additional work was needed on the business plan and construction costs.

City staff said they expect to know more in early 2013, noting the complex is still under construction.

The city’s call for proposals in June stipulated the new tenant was responsible for completely fitting the concrete shell.

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