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Letter writer surprised at City plans to dump Civic Movie Theatre

By Contributor
March 26th, 2012

Editor, The Nelson Daily

On April 5, 2011 (yes, almost one entire year ago), I wrote Councillor Deb Kozak about the City’s plans for the vacant Nelson Movie Theatre — which at that point had been unoccupied for several months. 

I had left manyunanswered voice mail messages for the City Manager — with no response whatsoever.  And to her credit, Ms. Kozak responded the very next day. 

As a result of her explanations and other sources of information, I learned that:

1. Around November of 2010, the City elected not to renew the lease with the previous tenants who had been operating the movie theatre for some time;

2.That the City Manager had subsequently been approached by other possible operators/Tenants, and the City entered into a Lease Agreement with them;

3.This group began some internal improvements (including ripping out the original seats with brand new seating still uninstalled on site) but that the City Manager and/or the City terminated this Lease in approximately February of 2011. 

It was around this time that I spent several weeks trying to connect with the City Manager regarding the City’s plans for seeking out new operators for the movie theatre. 

It seemed to me to be a good time to try to capitalize on at least some degreeof momentum; to utilize the free (I assume) new seating on site; to return an operating movie theatre to Nelson; and to add some of the theatre’s revenue to the City’s coffers.

Since the City Manager and his assistant(s) felt that my inquiries were of little consequence, I e-mailed Ms. Kozak as noted above.  

She provided but another reason why this project seemed on the verge of being mired down: “The City is undertaking a facility review of all properties    and the theatre is part of this review 

The review is expected to be completed by June (2011 which will allow all parties to be) . . . better informed about the condition and usage of all facilities which will clarify future agreements.”

It is not quite clear to me why the movie theatre was, in fact, leased out at the beginning of 2011 without requiringa “facility review.” 

Regardless, it is now almost one entire year since this critical “facility review” (assuming it ever took place and assuming that Council has made use of it). 

But since November of 2010, the City has not had an operating movie theatre, and it has also foregone revenue for that length of time.  

So, I was both disappointed and surprised to see the front-page headline in the Nelson Star about discussions for a climbing gym and squash courts in this venue.  

And to rub salt in the wounds, the article made it quite clear that at least some Council members seem to be leaning already in one particular direction. 

At the forefront of this contingent appears to be Mayor Dooley who was quoted as saying,  “...We said goodbye to it [the movie theatre] a long time ago when we quit supporting it. . ..” 

Did I read this correctly?

When exactly did that farewell take place, Mayor Dooley? 

Why was I wasting time and energy trying to get a modicum of information from the City a year agoas to what its plans were for a movie theater   — not forsquash courts and a climbing wall. 

And why have the citizens of Nelson been kept in the dark about the future of the movie theater for a year and a half? 

Why is Netflix being dragged out once again as the villain in this piece?

Why is it that Castlegar can keep a multiplex cinema operating (one cinema running 3D movies on a regular basis) for its similar-sized population base?  

Could it be that the citizens of Nelson, who are wasting time, money, and gasoline by driving to Castlegar to watch a film, are contributing to the well-being of Castlegar’s cinema, as Councillor Cherbo pointed out? 

But most egregious of all, how can the City in good conscience issue a Request for Proposal for the Civic Theatre, posted just one week ago, as follows?

 “The City of Nelson seeks creative proposals from for-profit or enterprising not-for-profit organizations to operate  the historic Nelson Civic Theatre. Built in 1935…, the 500 seat Civic Theatre… was operated for decades as a single screen cinema and live performance venue.

“The now vacant Civic Theatre is available for creative reuse as a cinema, or cinemas, and live performance. Evidence of adequate enterprise capitalization and a solid understanding of the cinema business are requirements to secure consideration of your proposal. . ..”

Mayor Dooley then claims that Council’s interest in the proposal from the squash club was tempered by the fact that the club “had to follow through with a Request for Proposals. ‘I feel really good about the proposal [for squash courts and a climbing wall] . . . I also feel that before we would demolish the interior of that facility we need to make darn sure that it can’t be used as a public space for performing arts or presenting movies.’ ” 

Is anyone else just a little bit confused??

Mayor Dooley is then quoted as saying that the City “…bent over backwards to try to…” keep the movie theatre operating at a profit. ‘The numbers don’t lie . . .. There are a lot of factors there [as to why ‘We said goodbye’ to the movie theatre] and people will be sad because when it was built it had a lot of vision and foresight, but things change.’ ” 

With all due respect to Mayor Dooley and the City staff, I did not see anyevidence of the City “bending over backwards” to keep the movie theater operating profitably and, further, I saw a good deal of evidence in failing to aggressively adapt to a changing entertainment climate. 

The City’s performance for the past 18 months alone speaks volumes about how not toencourage proposals from the community or beyond as well as the price of failing to make prudent business decisions in a timely manner.

Perhaps Mr. Dooley will now better understand his perception of the alleged apathy on the part of Nelson movie-goers – when anyone remotely interested in the fate of the theater got nothing but the royal-runaround for months and months from the City. 

Quite frankly, I threw the towel in when it became clear to me that the City and staff had no intention of doing anythingconstructive and expeditious aside from passing the buck.

And after the comments as reported in the Nelson Star, I truly regret to say that I am appalled as to how this entire matter has been mishandled from the very outset and how residents have been either ignored or mislead for month after month. 

How and why a business was allowed to wither away, depriving the growing population base of Nelson (particularly kids, families, and seniors) as well as Nelson’s many tourists, from having the unique pleasure of watching a film in a movie theater, has been a sad and unnecessary spectacle to watch.

We only have one chance to take our kids to their first “for real” movie experience, replete with popcorn and candy. 

To watch those same children sit motionless, in wide-eyed wonder, as Hugo in 3D surrounds them and perhaps even inspires them  — well, I guess those irreplaceable experiences will have to take place in Castlegar — or not at all.

T. Morrison,

Nelson, B.C.

Categories: Letters

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