Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Burt employees must reapply for jobs

True North takeover of downtown site begins

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Bigger acts could play the Burton Cummings Theatre once True North takes over the venue's management.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Bigger acts could play the Burton Cummings Theatre once True North takes over the venue's management. Photo Store

The next time you go to a show at the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts, don't be surprised if your favourite usher from Winnipeg Jets games takes your ticket.

True North Sports & Entertainment is moving closer to taking over the management of the Burt, although it will be months before an arrangement is finalized.

A similar deal with the Pantages Playhouse Theatre is also in the works but it's at a "very preliminary" stage, said True North spokesman Scott Brown.

He confirmed a letter has been sent to the Burt's employees informing them they'll need to reapply for their positions by April 15.

"It doesn't mean they're laid off. They are essentially becoming employees of True North, rather than the Burt. It's like when a new general manager takes over a sports team. He reviews all the personnel and coaches, which is the situation here. We're going to move in and manage the building and we reserve the right to review the personnel there," he said.

Brown said the employees who are rehired will be free to join True North's lists to work MTS Centre events, such as Jets games and concerts. They will also receive the benefits given to the company's part-time employees.

Even though the negotiations between True North and the Burt's volunteer board are expected to extend into the summer, True North's impact will be felt "very soon."

"I think we're going to start booking the shows there pretty quickly," Brown said.

The reality of the situation is True North, as a profitable, privately run company with a diverse calendar of events, has a greater ability to take on risk in booking various acts.

The Burt, meanwhile, is a not-for-profit organization that is also a registered charity. It has a full-time staff of two.

"With every event, you take on risk. If a show doesn't sell as well as you'd like, there's a financial risk for the facility. We're in a position to take on a bigger risk than the Burt and we might be able to bring in some bigger shows than the Burt could previously," Brown said.

When the Free Press first broke the news of True North's desire to manage the Burt in December, Pantages was also included in its aspirations.

Brown said those discussions are "on the horizon" while True North focuses on the Burt.

Trudy Schroeder, executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which has been managing Pantages for the past three years, said she's optimistic something can be worked out for the benefit of all parties, but most importantly, the cultural community.

"We expect we'll be co-operating. (True North) has been very willing to look at models where both organizations benefit," Schroeder said.

"True North only does things when it makes good business sense. We are a charity. We do a lot of things that make no sense from a financial standpoint. We're not unbusiness-like, we just have a different role. If True North is pursuing activity at the Burt, it's because they think they can make money at it."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 B3

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