The birthplace of the Vancouver International Film Festival is about to disappear, along with the other tenants of the strip mall on Arbutus Street between West 15th and 16th avenues. Cressey Development Group bought the block-long property in June 2011 and plans to build condos on the site.
George Mah, the general manager of Festival Cinemas, operator of the 1950s-era movie house, said he knows it’s just a matter of time.
“We have a demolition clause in our lease, so the landlord can give us a notice and we’d be out of there,” Mah told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “There’s no room for a theatre in there anymore.”
The Ridge has a lease until September 2013. Cressey can use the demolition clause after it gets a development permit from city hall. “It would mean the end of the Ridge,” Mah said.
Cressey is building a five-storey mixed-use development that will contain 52 homes and about 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
According to vice-president Hani Lammam, the project doesn’t require a rezoning. This means it won’t need council approval after a requisite public hearing. “We are building within our rights in our property,” Lammam told the Straight by phone. He noted that the site’s density permits a floor-space ratio of 2.5, meaning that the total floor area of the building can be two-and-a-half times the area of the property on which it’s built.
According to a public notice released by the city, Cressey is building more than 80,000 square feet. The development will feature 89 commercial parking spaces and 95 parking slots for residents and their visitors.
A petition is making the rounds to save the Ridge, as well as another 1950s-vintage establishment in the strip mall: the Varsity-Ridge 5 Pin Bowling Centre.
“I bought it in 1981,” bowling-alley owner Ken Hayden told the Straight in a phone interview. “I’ve been here since 1981. Myself, my wife, and my sister Gail are here all the time, running it as a family.” That day, Hayden was set to go to City Hall to submit a list of about 3,000 signatures from people who want the theatre and the bowling alley to stay.
“They’ve been here so long, they’re just part of the community,” he said.
A separate online petition specific to the Varsity bowling centre talks about what it would mean to lose the facility. “Varsity has 25 weekly leagues with over 700 bowlers between the ages of 3 to 99(!),” the appeal reads. “Many people bowl multiple times a week, especially seniors, as a means to socialize and be active. Removing the lanes will not only affect these bowlers, but also the thousands of community members like you who bowl for fun, birthdays, fundraisers, stags/stagettes, work parties, rainy day recreation, the list goes on…”
The petition notes that places like Varsity keep Vancouver’s neighbourhoods connected. “Let’s not lose it,” it pleads.
The city’s development-permit board will take up Cressey’s permit application in a meeting on July 30.
“We have fulfilled our commitment to them as tenants, and they are continuing to stay there for the time being until we’re ready to redevelop,” Cressey’s Lammam said. According to him, the Ridge’s operator has acknowledged that the show is almost over. “I have some correspondence, for example, from our theatre tenant that since they are unable to invest in upgrading their facility, it’s not a viable business for them going forward,” he said. “They know that their days are numbered, and it’s not economical for them to continue to operate with the existing space that they have and the equipment that they have.”
Lammam added that the situation applies to Varsity as well: “There has been no investment in that facility for many years. And again, it’s at the end of its life.”