The people running the Burton Cummings Theatre and the Pantages Playhouse Theatre are looking for help to save the struggling venues, but it's too early to say what role, if any, might be played by True North Sports & Entertainment.
Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president of venues and entertainment at True North and the man who books the 15,000-seat MTS Centre, told the Free Press Monday he had been approached about possible partnerships with both facilities, but he was focused primarily on the Burt, its programming and strategic direction.
Dave Sherman, chairman of the volunteer board overseeing the 106-year-old theatre, named after the Guess Who frontman in 2002, said their main goal is to keep the building open and operating.
He said he's happy to continue discussions with True North on a partnership to handle programming for the 1,600-seat theatre or an outright sale to True North or a third party.
'We want to sell the building. Our board has been trying to unload this building for years. Make us an offer'
"I don't have a preference either way as long as it stays open," Sherman said.
Wayne Jackson, the Burt's general manager, was more blunt.
"We want to sell the building. Our board has been trying to unload this building for years. Make us an offer," he said.
"We'll continue running it. If somebody comes along and has a better idea and wants to take it off our hands, that's what we really want to have happen."
Donnelly said True North would not proceed on its own with the Burt.
"If we don't get some help, it's not proceeding. I need somebody to say, 'We're with you,' " he said. "I don't think True North is the answer to all of (the Burt's) problems."
Trudy Schroeder, executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which has been managing the Pantages for the past three years, said she believes something could come together with True North.
"We have a lot of respect for Kevin and the team at True North. We've sensed a lot of goodwill from them. We want something to happen. The WSO is not in the business of running falling-down theatres. We have been putting in the sweat equity because we believe the facility has the potential to provide some excellent benefits in the long run," she said.
Her dream is an $18-million capital project that would cover a complete refurbishment of the theatre and a 20,000-square-foot addition that would feature a main-floor bistro.
"What we hear from concert hall designers and planners is many people want to be able to see the next place that they're going (when they leave the theatre). If we had a European-style coffee house that served great desserts and snacks before or after a concert, that would be a lovely thing for our community," Schroeder said.
Donnelly said operators of a customer-driven building can't "tread water" and not invest in the facility.
"Things break down. Everything has a shelf life. Neither the Playhouse nor the Burt is reinvesting in their buildings and neither has a plan for any kind of reinvesting. That's not sustainable. They will continue to erode until they shut or somebody comes up with a plan," he said.
The Burt's board has retired its once-sizable debt, but it has not had anything more than an ad hoc capital budget for repairs, and Jackson has a laundry list of things he'd like to fix and upgrade.
For starters, he said the washroom facilities and plumbing needs to be updated and many seats on the main floor have rips in them or less-than-buoyant cushioning.
"I'd love to drive by in 20 years and say that I had a part of keeping a piece of Winnipeg history going. It would have been easy to tear it down like they did with the Capitol (theatre in 2003)," Donnelly said.