Not any more

City of Montreal taking back the Empress

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 21:24

MONTREAL – Ownership of the crumbling remains of the Empress Theatre (Cinema V) on Sherbrooke St. W. will revert to the city of Montreal in November.

Eleven years after the site was purchased by the city and ownership given to a group that hoped to create some sort of community centre for the performing arts, the key will go back to the city centre -and with it the bills.

"Essentially, the work cannot be done by the community. The roof needs repairs, there are electrical issues, and there are other problems with this old heritage building," said Arnold Bennett, board member of the Empress Cultural Centre Inc., the not-for-profit group that is trying to resurrect what was once a thriving theatre and cabaret venue.

A decade of frustration and bad luck has dogged the folks who have been trying to turn the former movie complex into a performance venue for local troupes, and so before the building becomes a sorry wreck like the privately owned Seville, it will go back to the city.

When the provincial government’s culture and communications ministry turned down a funding request in December 2009, and a similar request was also refused by Ottawa, the board members realized that they could not raise the estimated $10 million to $11 million needed to refurbish the place.

"We were certainly demoralized when Quebec said no," Bennett said.

The board also couldn’t allow the building to deteriorate further.

"Temporarily, it’s game over, but all kinds of discussions are going on looking for a solution," Bennett said.

"No. 1, the city is taking the building back to do the necessary repairs, No. 2, the borough will continue to work with the community," Bennett said.

While plans are up in the air, what will not happen is a conversion of the property to condos, Bennett said most emphatically.

"Even if the building is owned by the city, conversion to condos will not be tolerated by the borough," he said.

"There has been no decision made about the building. We are waiting to hear from the board," said city of Montreal spokesperson Darren Becker.

"The city has also been paying some of the costs on the upkeep of this building," Becker added.

Said Bennett: "Unless a solution is found to put money into this place, the building will sit empty, which is not in anybody’s interest."

asutherland@thegazette.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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