Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Old Garrick Theatre reborn as new concert hall

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IT'S back to the future for the old Garrick Theatre.

On Saturday night, for the first time, the Garry Street fourplex will serve as a concert venue for a local folk-rock band.

"There is nothing like this place in Winnipeg," says Paul McCrea, director of sales and marketing for the Ramada Marlborough Hotel.

"We think we will fill a niche."

The Marlborough purchased the former movie palace, which shares a back alley with the hotel, in March 2002, just after it closed its doors to the film-going public.

This latest move is part of the owners' plan to turn the facility into a full-fledged conference and entertainment centre.

Its official name is, in fact, the Ramada Conference and Entertainment Centre.

Since December, the 600-seat Garrick 1 has been rented out to numerous corporate customers for meetings and presentations, thanks to its state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment.

The old Garrick 2, which seats 800, is nearing the completion of its renovation.

Gilles Paquin, president of Winnipeg's major talent booking agency, welcomes the arrival of these two rooms on the scene.

"They're the perfect size," Paquin said. "It's what's missing."

Often, he says, the 300-seat rooms, such as the West End Cultural Centre, are too small to make financial sense, while the 1,500-seat venues, the Walker and the Pantages, are bigger than what the act can draw.

"You need a proscenium (the overhead framework) and a backstage," he says. "And wings off the sides."

The Garrick 1, McCrea says, has a small backstage but neither the framework nor the wings.

"The second theatre is being built with more live stage productions in mind."

But what's there now is fine for Eric Swanson and his three fellow musicians in Cheatron, a local folk-rock band.

Cheatron is holding its CD launch in the Garrick 1 on Saturday. The opening acts go at 7:30 p.m., while the featured group is expected to appear at 9:30.

"It's a great room," says Swanson, 23, who works as the hotel's night manager.

"The acoustics are very good."

McCrea estimates the cost of the renovations to the theatres at $800,000. This covers the revamped lobby, the installation of liquor and food-service facilities, and fancy projectors and screens in the theatres.

Plans are still in the works for an enclosed walkway to join the hotel to the conference centre.

"One of the small theatres is being turned into a pool and a water slide for the hotel," McCrea says. "I don't know when it will happen, but the budgets are in place."

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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