As the May 31 deadline approaches for the submission of proposals for the use of the Civic Theatre, one group has made no secret of its plans. It’s been putting out surveys, holding public meetings, and talking to the media.
The Nelson Civic Theatre Society’s proposal is in its final stages of preparation, says its author, Anne DeGrace. “It is a pretty in-depth proposal considering the time we had,” she says. “It includes detailed leasehold improvements with our assumptions and our unknowns clearly identified. It puts together costs and income projections so there is a good business plan. It’s a good solid proposal that we feel good about.”
The group has a core of about twelve people who have been doing background work for the proposal, including economic consultant Mike Stolte and John Brand of the Kootenay Savings Credit Union. But the group’s base of support seems much broader than that.
Cindy Sherry, who got the group started a few months ago and who has been on the street collecting opinions and names ever since, says their community survey has received about 4000 responses, with overwhelming support. “People are shaking their heads and saying, why don’t we have a movie theatre, this is just crazy,” she said.
“We asked how many people would like to volunteer if we opened a theatre, and we had over a hundred volunteers for that. We found that many people do go to movies in Castlegar, and they do spend money there. A lot of people go 12 times a year.
“And there was a lot of concern about teenagers driving on that highway in the winter and at night— there are lot of worried parents out there.
“But definitely people are missing that warm summer night, eating out and then walking over to the theatre.”
Competing with the internet?
“The support that is out there in Nelson,” says DeGrace, “is pretty sweeping across age groups.” She said she was surprised at the enthusiasm of students at LVR and Trafalgar, and she has concluded that a movie theatre in Nelson could compete with on-line movies. She said the group’s research shows that attendance at movie theatres across North America is, contrary to popular opinion, increasing.
DeGrace says the group attempted to design a proposal to include the wishes of all its members. The biggest challenge, she says was “distilling what we found out, and the ideas that have come forward, into something that really represents the whole group, and that we can all get behind. We all believe this can be done."
“There are a lot of options out there," says Sherry, "there is single screen, there is multi screen, there is multi purpose space, there are lots of ways to approach this, and we have tried to find the model that will work the best for us and the community.”
She adds that there are options like matinees, special film nights and film festivals. “We could get satellite for sports and Olympic events, or for the metropolitan opera broadcast like in Trail.”
The financial challenge
DeGrace said the huge renovation project would have to be funded by grants and other fundraising, including selling memberships. “We have provisional support from the Columbia Basin Trust to do a feasibility study,” she says. Such a study would probably be the next step if the proposal were accepted by city council.
The group has been advised by non-profit societies that run movie theatres in Salmon Arm and Burns Lake.
It’s about emotion… and business
The proposal contains quotations from the survey results. One anonymous respondent wrote, “I had my first kiss in the Civic Theatre.”
Another, from a high school student: “To take away cinema is to take away Friday night.”
“It’s about emotion,” says DeGrace, “the theatre is about emotion. How people feel about something in their city is important, it’s not just fluff.”
“Certainly it needs to be a viable business,” she adds, “and the non-profit model we believe is a viable business model, where a corporate for-profit model has a lot more challenges especially in a city-owned building that needs this much work.
“We want what we think is best for the community, and other proponents are coming from the same place, and we are all just putting it out there, with a great deal of good will. So we will see what happens and how it shakes out. But however it goes, we are all enriched by the experience so far and proud of ourselves for doing it.”