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Cinema V building to become new cultural centre: If you build it…

If you build it…

Empress Cultural Centre: New arts hub
Photo: Marianne McEwen

After years of struggle, it looks like NDG will finally see a cultural centre in the former Cinema V building on Sherbrooke St.

Last week, the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough council gave the $6.5-million multipurpose cultural centre project the long-awaited green light. Now the project’s partners – the Empress Cultural Centre, Black Theatre Workshop and the McGill Conservatory Community Program – can seek government funding for the performing and visual arts space. Plans include a 300-seat theatre; black box-style rehearsal and creation space with seating for over 100; a 50-seat cabaret-type hall; music, dance and theatre studios; and art gallery and administration space.

McGill is responsible for construction and Black Theatre Workshop will soon apply to Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications. "I’m sure the Quebec government will realize it’s an important project," says Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor Michael Applebaum. "It’s a good, well-thought-out business plan."

For years, Applebaum and board members from the Empress Cultural Centre, the non-profit group responsible for reviving the city-owned building, appeared at loggerheads. In late 2006 the building was nearly auctioned off for unpaid property taxes and the project was in crisis.

"It came to a point when the City of Montreal and the borough said we will sell the building or we will take over the building," says Applebaum, pointing out the city’s total contribution to the project is $1.6-million. About a year and a half ago, a work force made up of the borough, the City of Montreal’s cultural department and Empress board members began working together to pilot the project.

Empress Cultural Centre board member Peter McAuslan did not return Hour’s phone calls, but had this to say in a recent press release: "The positive impact that people of goodwill can have when they work together on a project for the good of the community has been proven again by the case of the Empress project."

The centre’s board of directors will be modified to include representatives from the borough, the Empress Cultural Centre, McGill University, Black Theatre Workshop and "possibly someone from the community," Applebaum says.

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  3 comments

  • by Pedro Eggers - February 17, 2008, 2:48 pm

    As a longtime resident of NDG I’ve gotta say that I’m of two minds on this news, firstly, I want to cry out “Finally!” but in the next breath I find myself thinking that I’ll believe it when I see it. This has taken far too long to get off the ground for me or anyone to get all jazzed up about it just like that anymore. A positive step to be sure but I’ve seen positive steps grind to a halt before so I’ll just wait and see how things progress from this point forward.

  • by Reuven De Souza - February 18, 2008, 10:59 am

    For abuot the better part of two decades the Empress/Cinema V has served both as a reminder of Sherbrooke West’s rise and fall and as an eyesore for residents. While I am too young to ever have appreciated fully a time when NDG had the Kent, Snowdon, Claremont and Empress theatres serving the West End, I do remember enjoying its bastardization as a repertory with the truncated two screens. But since the fire and the continual struggles to restore this landmark and the inevitable failures associated with it…well I, like a lot of people had long given up on the matter. It would be a wonderful and tangible sign of the resurgence of the area to finally see Cinema V usefully serve the community. Lets keep our fingers crossed this time!

  • by Martin Dansky - February 18, 2008, 11:28 pm

    I would like to remind Pedro that sometimes good things happen after struggles are fought, in the case of this theater it took years for McGill, the city and another theater organization was able to work together to get the project to completion. I too would like those it open beofre shouting the final hurrah, but the meeting with Mr Applebaum sounds very encouraging and the fact that the property had not been put on the block for unpaid taxes shows that some minds worked together to prevent the loss of another Montreal architectural icon and potential theater space. Kudos for its eventual multimedia use. I would imagine that the upper floors could be rented out for permanent or temporary theatre company space, something along the lines of what the Mai center does?

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