An evangelical church appears to be negotiating to take over the storied Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, once Livent's mega-musical headquarters in Vancouver and lately a venue for numerous concerts and comedy shows.
On its website, Westside Church pastor Norman Funk wrote: "we are officially (and publicly), announcing that Westside has been investigating, endeavoring, pursuing—in conjunction and partnership with those not officially a part of our ministry yet certainly friends of the ministry—the exclusive rights and usage of the Centre for the Performing Arts (formerly: Ford Centre) in downtown Vancouver as the new home for Westside Church."
He also wrote: “With a Purchase Sales Agreement in hand we now move immediately into a 75 day due diligence period which allows us to get into the facility and … evaluate whether or not finalizing the purchase of the building is feasible, prudent and God-directed."
On April 25, Funk Tweeted: “I have had 7 meetings this week alone re: the Centre, with all of them grace filled and Jesus centred. #grace #777”. On May 1, he Tweeted: “Thanks for your prayers for my meeting yesterday. Today received a $300,000 commitment to the Centre project!”
The church has apparently raised one-third of its costs from donors and hopes, with the agreement of the congregation, to start "Westside at the Centre" fully operating by fall.
The City of Vancouver has not made anyone available to be interviewed.
The Centre is in the central business district and is zoned for nonresidential uses. Churches are designated as institutional uses, which are permitted in this area. An application must be made to the city for a change of use, such as converting the building into a house of worship.
Former city planning director Brent Toderian told the Straight by phone that the Centre is on the edge of an emerging cultural district.
"I'd say the loss of a cultural institution, a performing-arts institution, is just that, a loss," Toderian said. "How much the city can do to prevent such losses, though, is always a question because they have to be economically viable."
The Centre, designed by Moshe Safdie (who also created the Vancouver Public Library that sits across the street) was built by Live Entertainment of Canada Inc. (Livent) in 1995 at a cost of about $27 million and opened with much fanfare with Show Boat. But it shut down three years later amid Livent's financial crisis. Four Brothers Entertainment, under Colorado-based Dennis Law, bought the facility in 2001 for $7.8 million. Law set out to rejuvenate theatre here with a program that encompassed everything from his own Chinese-themed "action musical", Terra Cotta Warriors, to the Broadway warhorse 42nd Street with limited success.
"Koreans don't see Chinese plays, Chinese don't see Japanese plays, Japanese don't see Indian plays, and Caucasians don't see Chinese plays," Law told the Straight in a phone interview at the time. "Vancouver is a difficult place to run arts and culture because of its segmented population." Law once told the Straight that if attendance didn't increase at his 1,849-seat theatre, it could be turned into condos or even a casino.
Lately the Centre has been rented out to everything from concerts to comedians to the Goh Ballet's Nutcracker each Christmas.
Toderian, principal of Toderian urbanWORKS, noted that if Vancouverites want to have a cultural city, they will have to support arts and culture.
"There's only so much government can or should do," he said. "But I definitely see it as a disappointment, given the various cultural and performing institutions we've lost around the city—at the same time as we're trying to build up a culture district and increase the net amount of culture in our downtown."
He pointed to plans for a new Vancouver Art Gallery just down the street, the CBC, the Vancouver Public Library central branch, and refurbished Queen Elizabeth Theatre as important parts of the cultural district. That's in addition to nearby B.C. Place and Rogers Arena.
Toderian emphasized that some might consider a church a cultural facility. And other downtown churches, such as Christ Church Cathedral, add to the city's cultural life. But if a church moves into the Centre, Toderian said a key question would be how often events would be held at that location—and whether it would add to the vitality of the area.
Diane Heal, the centre’s vice president of operations, declined to comment to the Straight. Heal referred the Straight to Michael Law, with Global Pacific Properties Inc. A phone message to Law was not returned.