Nelson council has bobbled Civic Theatre issue

I am very disappointed about the 18-month “process” it has taken the city to deal with the issue of the Civic movie theatre.

I am very disappointed about the 18-month “process” it has taken the city to deal with the issue of the Civic movie theatre. The long trail behind the city’s decision not to renew the existing lease in November of 2010; followed by accepting new parties for a new lease shortly thereafter; having existing seating torn out with new uninstalled seating sitting on site; followed by termination of that lease in February of 2011 (with subsequent loss of city revenue from that point forward), etc. etc. has all been disheartening to follow.

I made numerous (unanswered) inquiries to the city manager about the status of the theatre a year ago.  When I finally gave up with the staff, Councillor Deb Kozak thankfully responded to my email within 24 hours, advising that, “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]…”

It is not quite clear to me why the movie theatre was leased out at the beginning of 2011 without requiring a “facility review.” Then again, there have been many issues that have not been clear to me about the vacant theatre. Quite frankly, I threw the towel in last summer when I finally realized that restoring the Civic movie theatre was nothing but an exercise in frustration.

However, I could not in good conscience ignore the front page headline in the Nelson Star on March 21: “Climbing gym, squash courts proposed for Civic Theatre.” The article itself quoted Mayor John Dooley as saying (among other things): “We said goodbye to it [the movie theatre] a long time ago when we quit supporting it…”

Mayor Dooley then claimed that council’s interest in the proposal from the climbing gym/squash club was tempered by the fact that the group “…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.”

And, pro forma, the RFP issued by the city about a week ago states that, “The now vacant Civic Theatre is available for creative reuse as a cinema, or cinemas, and live performance…”

Mayor Dooley also stated 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 and people will be sad… but things change.”

Is anyone else just a little bit confused?

With all due respect to the mayor and staff, I did not see any evidence of the city “bending over backwards” to keep the movie theatre operating. In fact, I saw evidence of failing to aggressively adapt to a changing entertainment climate. The city’s performance for the past 18 months alone speaks volumes about the latter — as well as the price of not making prudent business decisions in a timely manner.

Why have the citizens of Nelson been so ill-informed about the future of the movie theatre for month after month? Why is Netflix being dragged out once again as the villain in this piece? How is Castlegar able to keep a multiplex cinema operating (one theatre running 3D movies regularly) for its similar-sized population base?  Perhaps the citizens of Nelson, who are obliged to waste time, money, and gasoline by driving to Castlegar to watch a film, are contributing to the well-being of Castlegar’s cinema.

How and why a business opportunity 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 on a big screen has been a sad spectacle to watch.

We only have one chance to take our kids to their first “real” movie experience, replete with popcorn and candy. To watch those same children sit motionless, in wide-eyed wonder, as Hugo 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



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