York decision buoys Pantages supporters

Supporters of the Pantages Theatre are hailing council’s decision to save the York Theatre as a sign that their pleas will also be heard.

On December 18, council voted unanimously to consider 100-percent density transfer for the York Theatre through a mix of transferring density, a property-tax exemption, and capital funding.

Council ignored a staff recommendation for only a one-third density transfer. That decision has cleared the way for developer Bruno Wall to make an offer to purchase the site from Vintage Development Corp. president Paul Phillips before January 15, when a 120-day protection order on the site expires.

“I’m actually encouraged by council’s decision,” said Peter Fairchild, president of the Pantages Theatre Arts Society.

Last October, negotiations between the city and the Pantages Theatre’s owner, developer Marc Williams, collapsed in an in-camera meeting when managing director of cultural services, Sue Harvey, allegedly proposed a feasibility study into the theatre’s future rather than support a deal to buy the venue outright. Williams, who had originally planned to restore the theatre and add 130 units of adjacent social housing, subsequently placed the property on the market with a price tag of $8.2 million.

“If they can put $10 million into the York in terms of bonus density—never mind it didn’t really cost them anything to do it—surely they can put money into our project, real money, and get not only a restored theatre but the social housing,” said Fairchild.

Tom Durrie, founder of the Save the York Theatre Task Force, agreed with Fairchild. “Here is a council who actually supports the arts and culture, for once,” he said. “Council is going to start running the city instead of staff running the city.”

But COPE councillor David Cadman said the city was unlikely to take on the full cost of purchasing and renovating the Pantages. “One has to argue as to whether or not the expenditure of that kind of capital in this market is the principle need of the Downtown Eastside,” he said.