Borough votes to take over old Empress Theatre in NDG
A 12-year effort to revive the old Empress Theatre in NDG into a new cultural centre has been taken out of the hands of the people who were working hard to make it happen.
The NDG-Côte-des-Neiges borough council voted Monday evening to take the project over because it has taken too long with little sign of progress.
"Eleven years later and $1.5 million of public money on this building, the story is that we still are at the beginning," said the borough's cultural director, Gilles Bergeron. "The building is empty, no project in the building and for us we just want to take back conditional property rights."
The board of directors of the Empress Cultural Centre project disagrees with the borough's assessment, saying they have made progress but still need more time.
"We were looking at ways to bring in private interests to have a mixed use; to have a cultural use, commercial use but with a non-profit component," said board treasurer Jason Hughes. "In the summer we signed a letter of intent with a developer to move forward with that, we have a working plan…We think we need more time and we also need the city's support and we don't need to put in conflict with other projects or other developers."
The NDG-Cote-des-Neiges borough is dominated by councillors from Mayor Gérald Tremblay's Union Montréal party holding five of the six spots on the borough council, and they all voted in favour of the motion.
The lone opposition councilor is Peter McQueen of Projet Montréal, and he disagrees with the borough's stance on this issue.
"The plan is not finalized, I agree, but it's a very good start and it's exactly what (borough) Mayor (Michael) Applebaum and the city asked them to do," McQueen said. "So we're all just a little distraught and surprised that now they're pulling the rug out from underneath them."
The city now has a 60-day ownership of the building and plans to turn to the public for ideas on what to do with the classic yet deteriorated art-deco building on Sherbrooke St. W. between Old Orchard Ave. and Marcil Ave.
The conditions for any proposals are that they be auto-financed and that they include a cultural component.
"We'll have the chance to have a lot of projects, I hope, cheaper and faster than the first chapter," Bergeron said.
A request was made by McQueen to Applebaum to have the motion removed from Monday night's council meeting, but it went through regardless.