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Hope renews after society behind Calgary’s Grand Theatre reopens negotiations with landlord

The society behind Calgary’s historic Grand Theatre say they’re back at the negotiating table with the building’s landlord, in hopes of keeping the 112-year-old theatre open.

Officials announced in February that the space was at risk of shutting down later this year after the building’s landlord, Allied Properties REIT, rejected its feasibility plan at the 11th hour.

But at an event Wednesday afternoon, the society shared with dozens of community members that leaders with Allied flew into Calgary last week and agreed to reopen negotiations.

“We’re excited, hopeful and optimistic,” said society board chair Devon LeClair in an interview with CBC News.

“The situation now is we are working directly with leadership at Allied for the best possible future of this space.”

Considering how important the space is to Calgarians and local arts organizations, LeClair said it’s the team’s priority to have transparent conversations with the community and keep them updated on any progress.

At this point, the society is working on a new business model for the Grand. Their goal is to keep the space running as a theatre for at least the next 100 years.

“We’re hopeful that there will be a quick turnaround time so that we can get back to being a part of the arts and culture space in Calgary,” said LeClair.

Community support

Gail Kennedy was one of dozens who gathered at the Grand Theatre on Wednesday to discuss its future. She’s a makeup artist and member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212.

She said Calgary doesn’t have enough affordable theatres available to rent, and the Grand Theatre fills that gap. She hopes it can be saved.

“It has rich history. It’s a good space. Why do we throw our history away here in Calgary?” said Kennedy.

As a playwright and theatre artist, Eugene Stickland said he’s vitally concerned about theatre spaces in Calgary and beyond. 

“I think the feeling is, if you lose it, it’ll never come back. And so it’s important to try to keep it,” said Stickland.

A guy being interviewed
Eugene Stickland is a playwright and theatre artist who wants the Grand Theatre to stay open — and remain a theatre. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

He has watched the Grand Theatre space evolve through the years — from a theatre, to an indoor golfing facility, back to a theatre and more in between.

He said it felt like a victory when the space most recently became an actual working theatre again.

“But if we’re going to lose it again, then I have to ask myself, where are we going as a culture, as a society? Is this the kind of city you want to live in, where you lose a space that would be the envy of any other city probably in North America?”

Stickland said he remembers when, decades ago, philanthropist Jackie Flanagan stepped in to renovate the space and transform it into the celebrated theatre it is today. That, he said, would be the best-case scenario today.

“I’d have to ask myself, is such a miracle possible a second time? If it is, I pray for that,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful space and to lose it would, I think, be a crime.”

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