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Curtain drops on the Globe

Theatre in Portage Place to hold final screenings on Sunday

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Globe Cinema in Portage Place is closing this month.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Globe Cinema in Portage Place is closing this month. Photo Store

The Globe Cinema is going the way of the Northstar, Capital, Odeon, Metropolitan and Garrick -- all movie houses in downtown Winnipeg that faded to black over the years.

The three-screen complex on the third floor of Portage Place Shopping Centre will show its final movies on Sunday. (Belle, Only Lovers Left Alive and Maybe This Time are on the marquee.)

Landmark Cinemas, which owns the Globe, said reasons for the shutdown are simple: The number of people in the seats has been declining during the last several years and showed no sign of turning around, said Neil Campbell, the company's chief operating officer.

"We have always been committed to our movie-going guests in Winnipeg and therefore we remained in this location while trying a variety of programs to make this theatre viable. Recently, it has become increasingly difficult to get films for this location due to the low attendance numbers. Therefore, it was time to make the hard decision to close," he said in a news release.

It's the second movie theatre closing to hit Portage Place in 15 months. The Imax theatre showed its last film in March 2013.

The closing leaves the Towne Cinema 8 on Notre Dame Avenue as the sole remaining downtown mainstream movie house. But movie historians locally and nationally say the Globe's demise should not be seen as a setback for downtown revitalization.

"This isn't necessarily about the vibrancy of Winnipeg's downtown," said Ryerson University film historian Paul Moore. "We often think about movie theatres as cultural spaces, as sites of collective memory. Especially when they're closing, we do think of them as community centres more than as commercial spaces. But they are commercial, and they need to be profitable."

'(The Globe closing) is not surprising, to be honest. Downtown cinemas haven't kept up. It's unfortunate, but it's the reality of the marketplace'

-- Stefano Grande, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ

Moore, who has studied the ebb and flow of urban movie theatres across Canada, said the Globe was virtually the last of the 1980s shoe-box cineplexes, many built in downtown malls and most now eclipsed by suburban megaplexes. Ottawa's last downtown multiplex closed just before Christmas.

Movie-going is seen as an everyday activity, while downtowns are special-event destinations, and the trend across North America is toward big, easy-to-access, multi-screen behemoths that outshine the small and dated theatres.

Despite that, Moore offered some unexpected upsides.

He said Winnipeg may have lost many movie theatres in recent decades but the city has saved and repurposed more than its share of historic buildings. That includes the Burton Cummings Theatre, formerly the Odeon, the newly renovated Metropolitan and even the Pantages, which was once a vaudeville movie palace.

Moore said downtowns across Canada, including Saskatoon's, have seen the construction of modern, multi-screen megaplexes in recent years, which could offer some hope for Winnipeg, especially if the downtown residential population increases.

Despite the apparent step backwards in a downtown that has been making giant strides in recent years (the return of the NHL to the MTS Centre three years ago has prompted the opening of many restaurants and bars; the development of hundreds of new condos and the ongoing construction of the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District to revitalize 11 square blocks) stakeholders aren't hitting the panic button.

"(The Globe closing) is not surprising, to be honest," said Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone (BIZ).

"Downtown cinemas haven't kept up. It's unfortunate, but it's the reality of the marketplace," he said.

Clare MacKay, vice-president of marketing and communications at The Forks North Portage Partnership, which owns the land upon which Portage Place was built, agreed.

"It seems to be part of a trend of movie theatres moving out to the suburbs. It's not particular to our downtown; it's happening in a lot of downtowns in North America," she said.

It was unfortunate the Globe wasn't able to "hang on," she said.

"We provided free parking for their patrons. I guess their numbers just weren't there, and they had to make a business decision."

There are lots of great developments downtown and more are coming so she's not concerned about the failure of a single business.

"I wouldn't take it as a beacon of things to come. This was just an unfortunate casualty," she said.

Taking a glass half-full approach, Grande said losing the Globe could present a significant opportunity to reposition Portage Place, a mall that has failed to live up to expectations more than 25 years after it opened.

"We'd love to see thousands of people go to the Globe every month, but that's not reality. These 20-year-old structures make a better connection to the market 20 years ago than today," he said.

Greg Dandewich, senior vice-president of Economic Development Winnipeg, said there is always an ebb and flow of various operations downtown.

"If it doesn't work for (Landmark), then there will be different opportunities to supplant it, perhaps not a theatre but something that starts to fit into the fabric of the downtown," he said.

"Things change as the market changes. It's all about market demand. If something doesn't work, something else will replace it that will be more suitable for the market."

Kenneth George Godwin, a local film editor who made a documentary about Winnipeg's old movie theatres in 2012, said the demise of Winnipeg's downtown cinemas crept up on people, hurried along by the advent of high-quality home video, online rentals and other trends that ended the exclusivity of movie theatres.

"That was basically my act of mourning," said Godwin, whose documentary can be seen on MTS on-demand. "An experience I used to really, really love had kind of disappeared."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

With Netflix and monster TVs at home, does it matter that cinemas are closing? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2014 0

History

Updated on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 7:59 AM CDT: Adds sidebar

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