Big firms drop old theatres

The lights will soon go out at the Capitol 6 Theatres and at the historic Park Theatre. Nuria Bronfman, vice-president of corporate affairs for Famous Players, told the Georgia Straight that the upcoming shutdown of the Capitol 6 on Granville Mall will coincide with next month's opening of the new Paramount Theatre complex at the corner of Burrard and Smithe streets.

"I'm not sure if it will close the same day or a couple of weeks later," Bronfman said. "All our staff is moving over."

Bronfman said that FP's new Paramount Theatre will include nine screens and approximately 2,100 seats, whereas the Capitol 6 has 2,700 seats. Meanwhile, Atlantis Alliance spokesperson Jim Sherry confirmed in an e-mail to the Straight that his company will not renew its lease at the end of March at the Park Theatre at 3440 Cambie Street. The 75-year-old Park has a seating capacity of 534, making it one of the largest movie houses in Vancouver.

"As for the future of the theatre, you would be best served to speak with the manager or landlord who will advise you if a new tenant will be taking the space," wrote Sherry, who is also president of Canadian theatrical distribution with Motion Picture Distribution LP.

Veteran Vancouver movie-house entrepreneur Leonard Schein, a former operator of the Park Theatre, told the Straight that he is in negotiations with Camy Properties to lease the site. Schein, former president and CEO of Alliance Atlantis Cinemas, said that if he strikes a deal he will show "art or specialty" films, just as he did while he was operating the theatre from 1990 to 2001. He described the building as a "wonderful neighbourhood theatre".

Schein cited two major challenges: the cost of operating a single-screen theatre and the street disruption caused by the upcoming construction of a cut-and-cover Richmond/Airport/Vancouver Rapid Transit Pro?ject along Cambie Street. "So someone who would sign a five-year lease is somehow going to suffer through a year of getting very little business but still having all the costs for employees, the property tax, the rent, the Hydro, et cetera," he said.

In 1990, Schein took over the theatre after Cineplex Odeon chose not to renew its lease. At various times, he has operated the Ridge, the Starlight, the Vancouver East, the Varsity, the Plaza, and the Fifth Avenue Cinemas. Alliance Atlantis bought his company in 1998, and he remained in management there until 2001.

Alliance Atlantis Cinemas, as the departing tenant, may remove its property from the Park Theatre. "It might be dark for several months if someone has to re-equip the whole theatre to reopen it," Schein said.

Ken Charko, the independent operator of the Dunbar and Varsity theatres, told the Straight that he and Schein are the only two people in Vancouver who could successfully operate the Park Theatre as an independent movie house. Charko, second vice-president and director of the Motion Picture Theatre Association of BC, estimated that in a normal year the Park Theatre would attract more than 60,000 patrons. "The reason I'm holding off [negotiating] is strictly related to the RAV [line]," Charko said. "It would affect the business dramatically for eight months."

Rand Chatterjee, spokesperson of the Do RAV Right Coalition, told the Straight that the Park Theatre serves as the "anchor" for retailers and restaurants in that section of Cambie Street. "It does bring a lot of foot traffic in," Chatterjee said. "It's quite visible."

Chatterjee claimed that five other businesses on Cambie Street will not renew their leases because RAVCo approved cut-and-cover construction. RAVCo, a TransLink subsidiary, released a document mentioning there will be three-month periods of "no local access" followed by four to eight months of "limited local access" on Cambie Street south of 12th Avenue.

Alliance Atlantis Communications owns 51 percent of Motion Picture Distribution LP. The latter company owns 51 percent of Atlantis Alliance Cinemas. Famous Players owns 49 percent of Alliance Atlantis Cinemas, which also operates the Fifth Avenue theatre complex at 2110 Burrard.

Last October, New York-based media giant Viacom Inc. announced it wants to sell Famous Players, which has 84 theatres and 794 screens in Canada. Viacom, owner of the CBS and MTV networks, recently reported a stunning US$18-billion writedown on the value of its assets.