Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Faded beauty's glory restored by renovations, MET reborn as events centre

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Twenty-five years and four days after the old Metropolitan Theatre went dark, its grand hall lit up once again.

On Friday, Canad Inns used an invitation-only pre-opening gala to reveal the old theatre's $20-million transformation from a building in decay to a revamped entertainment centre in the heart of downtown. The nearly 93-year-old facility, now to be known as the Met Entertainment Centre, has been fully restored. The renovations include heritage elements such as mouldings that originally adorned the venue when it opened back in 1919.

The city and province each contributed $1.5 million to the transformation, with Canad Inns putting up the remaining $17 million. Canad Inns president Leo Ledohowski called the reno a "massively intricate" project and said he's grateful he was able to bring it to fruition.

The old Metropolitan Theatre closed its doors on Nov. 26, 1987, after showing its last movie and many decades after vaudeville performers last worked the boards of the Allen Theatre, the original name of the historic building at 281 Donald St.

When crews started to clear out the old theatre, Ledohowski said, they found an old box with the name of a Chicago-based firm that produced the building's original mouldings.

Ledohowski said staff contacted the company, which is still in business, and they helped restore the detailed mouldings to their former glory.

"Obviously it's fantastic," he said. "It took a lot of work."

Canad Inns has spent two years restoring the main theatre space, installing lounges in the lobby area and building a new structure on the south side of the building to house kitchens, elevators and washrooms.

A grand hall will serve as a multi-purpose event centre available to be rented for banquets, graduations and weddings. On a day-to-day basis, however, the Met will operate as a higher-end restaurant. The first and second floors, which look out onto Donald Street, will be a 200-seat eatery called simply The Met.

The building's unveiling brought back a flood of memories for guests who frequented the old theatre.

"I remember as a high school kid coming to the movies here," said Brian Janzen. "Back then you could see it had a great past, but it had decayed."

Premier Greg Selinger and Mayor Sam Katz said the restoration is a great example of how to revive downtown buildings into something productive.

"That's what it's all about -- making sure our buildings are alive and full of people," said Downtown BIZ executive director Stefano Grande.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 A8

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