For Don Johnston, talking about the local movie theatre is a personal matter.
“Hey, my first date was at the Civic. That’s what the Civic means to me,” he told city council on Tuesday.
Johnston, the vice-president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society, gave an impassioned presentation about construction and expansion plans for the aging facility. He was joined by board member Graeme Leadbeater and architect Jennifer Marshall, as well as numerous members of the community.
But before they started talking about future plans, Marshall took some time to celebrate their accomplishments over the course of the last year.
“The response from the community has been miraculous,” said Marshall. The society currently has 2,400 members, has screened 123 films and has hosted 36,571 movie-goers. During that time they’ve spent approximately $300,000 to clean, paint, replace seats, install digital sound, build offices, change the lighting and introduce fountain drinks. But they’ve also come up against some unusual obstacles.
“We’ve got air conditioning going in this month, which is great,” said Marshall, who described the 1935 structure as “old” and “cranky”. However, the concrete building isn’t properly insulated, which makes the air conditioning expensive and inefficient.
She said their goal is sustainability, and the only way to accomplish that is to convert the existing theatre into three separate ones.
“In a community like Nelson we can’t just have one movie going five days a week and be sustainable,” she said. Their plan is to show blockbusters on the larger screen while reserving the smaller ones for indie and local films. They also hope to host a number of rental groups and have live performances.
The society hopes to make the theatre more accessible for the handicapped, as the current ramp isn’t up to code. However, changing that may be problematic.
“The structural engineers told us to stay away from the concrete shell,” said Marshall. The engineers advised that tinkering with the aging concrete could incur enormous expenses. She added that they’re looking into alternative ways to increase accessibility. They hope to install a lift that will connect all four floors.
Another issue is washrooms. The society hopes to avoid cramming them all into the lobby, because they want to retain the warm, social atmosphere. They’re investigating the possibility of building new washrooms in the lower gymnastics mezzanine area.
Acting mayor Robin Cherbo expressed concern about retaining the heritage, art deco-style of the building. He compared his vision to the Grand Budapest Hotel, which was met with laughter from the gallery.
Marshall assured the council that the graphic design would use art deco as a starting theme, and would incorporate natural imagery such as leafs and chevrons.
The society has received a huge amount of support and over $600,000 from the community, something that Johnston takes very seriously. He told council that he feels they have a “covenant” both with the city and their supporters.
“We see this as infrastructure. We want to participate fully in the connected world. We have a covenant with you to maximize the use,” he said.
To accomplish that, Johnston suggested they think bigger than just showing movies.
“This positions us in a unique way,” he said. “We can’t be a passive cinema. We need to build a coalition of action. There is so much talent in this community, and we have thought leaders all around us.”
Some of his ideas include setting up a mobile theatre that can show movies in isolated communities like Kaslo, setting up web conferencing and broadcasting events such as Shakespeare productions from the Globe Theatre live for audiences in Nelson.
“We want to build a bigger pie rather than fighting over the smaller pie,” he said.
Johnston said they are regularly hounded by members of the community curious about their developments, including the idea of installing a rooftop bar. When asked when their plans are going to become a reality, he said he has a simple answer: “Once we have three theatres.”
The presentation was received enthusiastically by Cherbo and other councillors.
“This project has taken off and flown,” said councillor Deb Kozak, who noted that it was really difficult for community members when the theatre wasn’t in use. She thanked the society for all their hard work.
“It think it speaks to how badly people want this.”
Cherbo wanted to know whether the new theatres would be able to show 3D movies. The current screen is slightly distorted, and not built to modern specifications. Johnston said once the theatre has been converted into three spaces they will have 3D capability.
Whatever changes they make, though, they will all be done with the participation and consensus of the community.
“We think it’s really quite simple. This is a building done by the community, for the community,” said Leadbeater. “Everyone’s excited.”