Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club could get new home in Vancouver “theatrical hub”

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      The two largest theatre companies in Vancouver are combining forces as part of a new “theatrical hub” proposed for Southeast False Creek.

      A report going before Vancouver city council next week recommends Bard on the Beach and the Arts Club as not-for-profit tenants in a 44,000-square-foot space at 162 West 1st Avenue.

      Howard Jang, the executive director of the Arts Club, said the theatre company is “bursting at the seams” when it comes to production space. The group, which produced 20 shows last year, has just one rehearsal hall, and has been renting various spaces around the city.

      “The idea of rehearsing three or four different shows at the same time was near impossible,” he told the Straight by phone.

      “We knew very much back in the 2007 strategic plan that we needed to address this, and we’ve been on the hunt to figure out how to do this since 2007.”

      As part of the proposed hub, the Arts Club plans to relocate its Revue Stage programming to a new, 250-seat theatre in the West 1st Avenue building.

      Jang said the theatre company had a sense that its landlord at the Revue Stage could eventually expand the Granville Island market and potentially take back the space.

      “We knew eventually this would all happen, so we kind of always had it in the back of our mind,” he said. “And then this opportunity came up.”

      As part of the staff recommendations, council is also being asked to approve a capital grant of up to $7 million for the new space, which was allocated for cultural use as part of a $7.6-million community amenity contribution by the Wall Financial Corporation.

      “By supporting the recommendations in this report, the City will support a partnership with the two largest theatre companies in Western Canada that have the capacity to develop and sustainably operate what will become a substantive performing arts facility,” the report reads.

      The space, which was originally intended for the now-defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, occupies the first two floors of two towers in the condo development across from The Village on False Creek. Ownership of the space is expected to be transferred to the city by mid-November. Staff are recommending two separate leases with the Arts Club and Bard on the Beach for a term of sixty years and a “nominal rent” of $10.

      The lease with Bard on the Beach would see the theatre company take over 16,300 square feet of the space for rehearsal halls, an office and a costume shop, while the Arts Club plans to use about 32,000 square feet for the new theatre, green rooms, a lobby, props and costumes, storage, rehearsal halls and offices. The space-use plan for the venue includes 4,394 square feet of infill that would allow two additional rehearsal spaces.

      The two theatre companies were selected following an open application process conducted in the summer of 2012. First Pacific Theatre Society was originally a third partner in the joint proposal, but decided not to proceed with tenanting the space in late 2012, according to the staff report.

      As part of the proposal, the facility will become home to 80 to 150 staff, and will feature co-operative programming, theatre and rehearsal rentals, costume and prop shops, and expanded public and youth programming.

      “Enabling Arts Club and Bard to develop and operate a new collaborative ‘theatrical hub’ that includes a vibrant community program and services that will be shared with the broader community offers a rare opportunity to transform Vancouver’s theatre infrastructure,” the staff report reads. “Arts Club and Bard have the operational and financial capacity to develop and sustainably run the proposed space and provide a significant community benefit.”

      The total cost of the space, including the $7.6 million community amenity contribution, is valued at $20.4 million, according to the city report. The $7 million being recommended in capital funding is expected to help leverage additional infrastructure funding from senior levels of government and private donors.

      Jang described the new space in the Southeast False Creek building as “just stunning”. He estimates that if the theatre companies get the approval and funding necessary to move ahead with the facility, the timeline for turning the venue into a theatre and cultural space will be about 20 months.

      He noted that part of the plan for the building is to make the theatre and other amenities available for rentals during part of the year—something he thinks will be a “tremendous opportunity” for the arts community.

      “I think it’s going to be in great demand,” said Jang. “There’s a lot of small to mid-sized theatre companies that have an opportunity to really build a home. So our plan…is that it will be available to community, and not just the theatre, but rehearsal spaces, production space, meeting spaces. We really do want to make it a hub and make it a theatre centre.”

      Council is scheduled to vote on the recommendations next Tuesday (November 5). 

      Comments

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      14 Comments

      FanofBard

      Oct 31, 2013 at 10:32am

      This would take away from Bard, wouldn't be "on the beach" anymore which is one of the great things about Bard.

      Miranda

      Oct 31, 2013 at 11:54am

      FanofBard: Rest assured, your fandom is safe. This is chiefly about production space ~ the space in which Bard and Arts Club shows build sets and costumes, plan and rehearse shows generally and execute all the office work required to bring you the shows you enjoy all year 'round, including on the beach in the summertime. Surely people don't believe the Bard costume team actually sews in the sand.

      Hazlit

      Oct 31, 2013 at 12:08pm

      This is GREAT. I am proud of the capitalist real estate developers and the city for supporting this. When plutocrats redirect their hoards of cash to struggling artists they make the world a better place.

      Marlon

      Oct 31, 2013 at 1:03pm

      Hazlit:

      Not sure if the plutocrats are supporting "struggling artists" with this one. The combined annual operating budgets of both organizations is 13 million dollars. Don't get me wrong - this is fantastic news. But let's not romanticize these 2 very successful cultural institutions with a false mantle of poverty.

      long time theatregoer

      Oct 31, 2013 at 3:49pm

      Bard and Arts Club are ok. But too bad there's nothing in this for Vancouver's only world class performing arts company, Ballet BC. They're still paying rent at the Dance Centre, a lot more than $10 per year.

      D. Zaster

      Oct 31, 2013 at 9:31pm

      A sensible plan like this might very well have enabled the Vancouver Playhouse to prosper instead of going bankrupt last year.
      The Playhouse was burdened for years with lease payments it couldn't afford, while the terms of the lease effectively prevented it from earning rental income from its downtown theatre space.
      Lessons learned.

      Let's have more deals like this. With the number of condo developments that have gone up in this city, and the added density now being planned, it's high time developers were asked to provide some cultural amenities out of their cash flow.

      Lament

      Oct 31, 2013 at 11:29pm

      The Vancouver Playhouse was originally supposed to get this space. They left their original warehouse near this very location and forced to pay hefty rents up the street when their space was demolished for the Olympics. This move eventually bankrupted them. Ironic.

      PlayhouseFriend

      Nov 1, 2013 at 10:23am

      Can I be the first to name it Bart's Club?

      Michael Puttonen

      Nov 1, 2013 at 12:11pm

      In 2003, Wall Financial Corp. buys 100 Blk W. 1st., the long-time rented home of the VPTC shops and offices. The VPTC is wooed as a “cultural partner” for an exciting “amenity deal” to be struck with Wall Financial and the City of Vancouver. It would be a new, permanent $24million home for VPTC on a $1 dollar a year, 30-year lease.

      The building would also house the Wine Festival, which has become an extremely popular, multi-day, fully fledged trade show drawing industry reps and wine lovers and writers from around the world, which is contractually pledged to give its yearly surplus to VPTC to maintain its not-for-profit status.

      Wall financial is no stranger Cultural Amenity Contracts. Wall Cultural Amenity Contracts (CAC) generate some 250,000 square feet in bonus density from the City in the decade after the turn of the millennium, with the Playhouse project representing the largest among them.

      Wall Sheraton Centre downtown got 70k extra square feet (at $800-1000 per, $50-60 million) for a $1.78million donation to the Stanley. The Orpheum, the York, Shannon, all yields bonus density...the list goes on.

      A typical CAC bonus subtracts the amenity space from rezoning calculations, then adds 2x the amenity space above the allowable density. With a “cultural partner” in support and no NIMBYs in an industrial neighbourhood, the City can grant Wall Financial an extra 135k sq. feet (at $800-1000 per).

      Wall is to build a 44k square ft., two-storey glass/concrete shell to fulfill the CAC, at an agreed cost of $12million.

      The VPTC will pay for the shell’s $12 million interior - offices, shops, a small theatre and public art gallery. VPTC say they’ll raise $8 million from the private sector and the rest from government sources.

      The 2006 CAC contract requires VPTC to have the first $6 million in place when ground breaks for the shell in two years, and another $6 million due upon completion, in four years.

      When they occupy, VPTC will have some $400k per year in common costs. Over 30 years that will drain another $12 million, and at lease-end the City will still own the building.

      The Feb 2007 Wine Festival is the biggest year ever, turning over more than $600k to the VPTC. This drops to less than $400k in Feb 2008.

      Nonetheless, the VPTC Board sets the baseline budget at 2007 levels and adds more than $300k in un-funded executive salaries an

      Michael Puttonen

      Nov 1, 2013 at 1:15pm

      pt 2...

      Nonetheless, the VPTC Board sets the baseline budget at 2007 levels and adds more than $300k in un-funded executive salaries and benefits alone. The company is on target for a $1million deficit by the spring of 2010.

      Then, Wall Financial suspends disappointing False Creek South presales in 2008. It is this retreat from a sour market, not the Olympics, that shelves the project for two years.

      Yet, with two more years to raise the funds for their new home, VPTC still does nothing, doesn’t even apply to the 2009 federal infrastructure program that yields Bard on the Beach $1 million. VPTC’s $12 million CAC project would probably be awarded more than Bard, but they don’t bother to ask. In fact, VPTC have no fundraising committee whatsoever.

      In 2009, VPTC revenues increase by $1million, but expenses increase $1.3 million, reflecting the structural deficit incurred with that extra $300k in executive compensation put in without a corresponding revenue stream.

      Evolving notes on the disposition of Society assets in the 2008 to 2010 Grant Thornton audits indicate VPTC is preparing to liquidate in 2010. But over the two-year sales hiatus Wall and the City need a “cultural partner” to validate the bonus density and enlarged tax base that will flow from the CAC.