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Green light given for the Civic Theatre project to add additional screens

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
January 11th, 2019

The silver screen of the city’s only theatre will be glowing green after receiving up to a million dollar loan from the city.

The city has agreed to loan the Nelson Civic Theatre Society (NCTS) up to $1 million to provide the matching funding necessary for a grant under the Invest in Canada Program (ICIP) Recreation and Culture stream.

NCTS will repay a minimum of $120,000 to the city each year once the three presentation spaces are completed. Once the loan has been repaid in full, the city will share in the profits generated by the society, or receive rent in accordance with city policy.

The project cost is estimated to be $4.55 million and the NCTS is applying for a grant of $3 million under the ICIP but require a line of credit from the city “to meet the requirement of proving they have the balance of the funding to complete the project.

“Their business plan also shows that they can repay the full $1 million if required,” read a city staff report to council.

Society board member Brian May said the addition of more theatre spaces is necessary for growth for financial sustainability and the development of programs and services at the theatre.

“Financial statements for the past three years shows that, due to both direct and indirect competition, single screen theatres are no longer viable,” said May in his presentation to council. “At best we are break even.

“We are now at a point where we are sufficiently stable in our operations and strong enough in our program and service delivery to expand.”

Although the City of Nelson owns the Civic Centre complex the theatre had operated as a private enterprise for a number of years.

“But with the changing industry it became unviable to continue to operate as a private enterprise and the theatre closed,” read a city staff report to council.

Five years ago the Nelson Civic Theatre Society was formed and re-opened the movie theatre, upgrading the facility and creating jobs.

Now the society has put forth a plan to turn the facility’s one screen space into three screen presentation spaces with the intent to increase the profitability of the society and allow them to offer more programs.

The model for the theatre since the society assumed control is to book non-blockbuster films a few weeks after release to take advantage of relaxed terms of 35 to 40 per cent.

“Multiple screens offer flexibility in programming, the ability to dedicate a screen to a new release for a sometimes protracted period and cost efficiencies,” May explained.

The agreement holds that the city will loan NCTS up to $1 million to renovate the Civic Theatre space into three presentations spaces, but is contingent on the society obtaining other grants of at least $3.3 million.

In return, the society will pay interest at the city’s short-term interest rate plus one per cent per annum, with the annual loan payment a minimum of $120,000 (including principal and interest) for each operating year.

In addition, the society will provide financial statements to the city each year, along with an operating and capital budget.

“It’s not like it’s free money, so they will be paying a little extra all of the time” to pay it back, Coun. Janice Morrison explained.

The Civic journey

In 1935 the Civic Theatre opened and continued to be a commercial operation until closing in September of 2010.

Two years later the community pulled together to save the theatre, gathering 4,000 signatures in support of its reopening and two years later the society had submitted a feasibility study and business plan to Nelson city council and had succeeded in signing a 20-year lease with a 10-year option for renewal.

“I’m glad to see there is a solid business plan in place,” said Morrison.

The proposal

The intent is to divide the 306-seat auditorium into three separate theatre spaces.

Although the society prefers a single phase for construction — since it would cause fewer disruptions to ongoing theatre operations — funding might not allow it. In that advent the work would be divided into three phases, with the three-year goal to complete all phases before the end of 2020.

The project is expected to take 18 months, with a four-month shutdown for phase one, re-opening for the second and third phases.

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