Point Grey Community Church’s offer to purchase leaves the theatre at risk

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Backgrounder for our press release of May 8, 2014.

The Save the Hollywood Coalition is raising concerns around recent news of a purchase agreement announced by the Point Grey Community Church (PGCC). The Church’s press release on May 1st revealed that it is planning to purchase the Hollywood Theatre, subject to sale of other assets and additional confidential conditions being negotiated with the current owner. The release stated, in part, that such a purchase would provide the Church with “the opportunity to continue engaging with local community programs, cultural events and initiatives.”

But according to the Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition, that has led a public campaign to protect the theatre, the Church’s plan for the Hollywood would neither secure the theatre’s heritage nor realize its fullest potential as a public arts and culture venue. Most importantly, there is no mention whatsoever of formal heritage designation. On the contrary, the Coalition understands, on the basis of a recent meeting with PGCC representatives, that the Church is contemplating major changes to the Hollywood’s interior, including addition of a partial second floor extending well into the auditorium. In addition to transforming the theatre’s heritage interior, the modification would remove the projection room and effectively end use of the Hollywood’s 35 mm projection system. These contemplated modifications are inconsistent with heritage preservation and amount to a significant change of use.

The Coalition appreciates the Church’s efforts to promote the Hollywood’s heritage and raise its profile in the period following the theatre’s closure in 2011. But the Hollywood is a theatre, not a church – and the Church’s priority is its religious ministry, not heritage preservation or arts and entertainment. Vancouver’s westside communities already benefit from a wealth of churches and other religious institutions, but there is a critical and ever-growing shortage of arts and culture capacity. The Hollywood Theatre represents a unique opportunity to resist the trend and rebuild our vanishing cultural landscape.

The Coalition is concerned that the Hollywood will be effectively converted into a private church hall with it only being available to the community and arts groups on the side at the Church’s discretion.

The Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition’s plan

In contrast, the Coalition’s vision for reinventing the Hollywood as a heritage-designated, public arts and culture venue would embrace the Hollywood’s past as a key element of its future. Heritage-sensitive renovations of stage and lobby areas would create a more vibrant and versatile theatre/performance space while respecting the Hollywood’s architectural integrity. Similarly, 35 mm film would continue to be a prominent part of the Hollywood’s program alongside the latest in digital cinematography.

In ongoing discussions with City Hall, and in their publicly stated position paper, the Coalition has urged the City to acquire the Hollywood, using a reasonable density transfer if necessary, in return for heritage designation of exterior, interior and theatre use and a community-use agreement for a broad-based cultural and community use in perpetuity. The Coalition’s plan has been outlined in our document “Reinventing the Hollywood“.

The Coalition also has an extensive business plan that outlines how this can be accomplished. The business plan demonstrates how the Hollywood can be a low-cost self-supporting venue.

The Hollywood is no ordinary building; it is an art deco monument to a golden age of movies and community spirit. While some of its facilities are in need of an upgrade, most of the heritage features remain functional, such as the 35 mm projection room and screen and sound system which are unique. These important heritage elements remain at risk in the Church’s current plans. The Coalition insists that they be designated and protected.

The Coalition plans include modifications to the stage to allow for live music events. Steve Edge, who has been Artistic Director of the Rogue Folk Club for 27 years, said “Vancouver has very little in mid-sized performance venues between 400 and 1,000 seats. The Hollywood would fill a niche with an affordable 500 – 600 seat venue for community arts groups, theatres, and concert presenters that is much needed.”

The upgrading would also add digital projection equipment, expand the lobby, add accessible washrooms, and create a green room for the stage. All of this is feasible and is detailed in the Coalition’s business plan.

City ownership is the preferred option for a community amenity

The proposed purchase agreement by the Church is great for the buyer and seller, however, not only does it leave everyone else out in the cold, it denies the community a vibrant and flexible performance space. With the recent demolition of the Ridge and the closure of the Jazz Cellar, we are witnessing a disturbing trend of increased housing density and decreased cultural amenities. The Coalition has developed a plan whereby the City can purchase this wonderful theatre at an affordable price; and which will not become a burden to taxpayers in the future.

Steve Edge is confident that the Hollywood will be a self-supporting venue, just as the St. James Community Square has been during its 20 years in operations, where the Rogue Folk Club has operated. Steve Edge said, “The St. James’ board fully supports the Coalition’s proposed model for the Hollywood as a City-owned cultural facility run by a non-profit.”

In conclusion, City ownership and community programming of the Hollywood is still the best solution, the one the Coalition supports, and Vancouverites insist that City Council pursue. With an election looming, it’s more urgent than ever that City Hall listen to the community’s wishes and do what’s best for all concerned, not just the purchasers and power brokers. The Hollywood should be for everyone.

The Save the Hollywood Coalition has support in writing for City ownership and community programming from arts organizations across the city. Heritage Vancouver Society has very strongly supported full heritage designation of the Hollywood exterior, interior and theatre use.

The Hollywood is one of the very last heritage theatres in Vancouver and the last one west of Granville. It is a valuable art deco heritage asset that must be saved. We are not there yet.

We encourage the City to work with the Coalition and the theatre’s present owner to achieve a solution that embraces the Hollywood’s heritage while ensuring its brightest future.

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