By PAM DOUGLAS
After spending years in limbo, the future of the Heritage Theatre is still uncertain, even with the presentation of a business plan for the “adaptive reuse” of the building that could involve the private and/or public sectors.
The plan was presented to committee of council last week, recommending the city put together a request for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from the private sector, not-for-profit and institutional organizations. The city hopes to find out who might want to set up shop in the old theatre and the other three city-owned buildings that make up the Heritage Theatre Block on Main Street North in downtown Brampton.
Re-development of the entire site has not been ruled out, committee was told.
ERA Architects Inc. concluded in a report to the city that there are two main options for an anchor tenant in the Heritage Theatre, the largest of the four buildings that make up what is also called the Robson Block:
• a private sector tenant such as a book store, food market or restaurant;
• a public anchor tenant that would act as a multi-purpose public arts and culture facility to address the under-served arts and culture segments of Brampton.
The ERA study suggests Loblaw, Chapters or the LCBO might be interested in becoming the “anchor tenant” on the main floor of the Heritage, although none have made formal proposals. ERA gave examples of similar conversions of older buildings in Toronto, Montreal and the U.S.
The upper floor of the Heritage would remain in public use, and a restaurant could be located in the building on Vivian Lane where Beaux-Arts is now located, ERA suggests.
In May/June, the city will consult the public on the potential use of the site and the buildings, holding stakeholder focus groups, public open house and presentations, and a HACE roundtable. Dates have not yet been announced.
The EOI request would be written over the summer with a goal to release it in September/October and have results back to council in December/January.
The ERA business plan was to examine how the four buildings, including the 89-year-old Heritage Theatre, can be re-used in a way that is “sustainable”.
Two years ago, a consultant confirmed all four buildings are worth saving, and city councillors approved the idea of developing the block into a space for art, culture and entertainment.
But even as councillors referred to the Heritage Theatre’s “re-use” at Wednesday’s meeting, there was talk about the potential for re-development of the entire site.
“Would this (the EOI) preclude considering an overall re-development?” Regional Councillor Gael Miles asked city staff.
It is not suitable for residential development, staff replied, but any proposals, including re-development, could be considered by council.
Miles said she believes “that we as a municipality can be doing a heck of a lot with that piece of land if it would allow for re-development.”
Regional Councillor Paul Palleschi talked about an American city where the facade of an old theatre was preserved, and a new building constructed behind it.
Planning Commissioner John Corbett told councillors the Heritage is “not high priority heritage stock”, but that “there is a strong community perception and need for it to be preserved. Preserved to the greatest extent possible.”
The building is on the city’s Heritage Resource list, and has been identified as a candidate for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act, but the city has not yet moved to designate it, which means it is not protected from demolition and there are no restrictions on renovations to the building.
The Vaudville-turned-movie-turned-live theatre needs some work, committee was told. It has been empty for five years and part of it is being used for storage. The roof needs to be examined, and the minimum cost of sprucing it up would be $4 million. A capital investment of $6 million would be needed to fit it up as a public theatre/arts building, with ongoing annual operating costs estimated between $320,000 and $420,000.
The studies on the condition of the Heritage Theatre Block buildings will be updated between now and September
By PAM DOUGLAS