City puts spotlight on Pantages ownership bid

A buyer has been found for the historic, city-owned Pantages Playhouse Theatre.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/02/2019 (1435 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A buyer has been found for the historic, city-owned Pantages Playhouse Theatre.

Councillors on the property and development committee will be asked to approve a sale of the 105-year-old downtown Winnipeg structure to local developers Alex Boersma and Lars Nicholson for $530,000.

The report, which will be considered at the committee’s March 4 meeting, says four offers for the property had been received in response to a request for proposal the City of Winnipeg issued last year.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Pantages Playhouse Theatre is 105 years old.

The report says Boersma and Nicholson plan to operate the property as a theatre but will also explore development opportunities on the site on the plaza area at the corner of Main Street and Market Avenue.

Detailed information on any of the four bids was not released by the city nor contained in the report.

Boersma said Tuesday he and Nicholson won’t comment on their plans until after the committee has considered the offer.

The administrative report notes the sale would include the developers providing city hall an easement for access and use of the northerly portion of the plaza in front of the theatre, where public work commemorating the 1919 General Strike is being installed.

The recommendation appears to upend a bid for the theatre from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which had been operating Pantages on the city’s behalf for several years at no cost and offered to buy the building in 2018.

Instead of taking the WSO up on its offer, the city issued the RFP.

“No one ever said life is fair,” Trudy Schroeder, WSO executive director, said on hearing the two developers appear to have won the bid on the theatre.

CITY OF WINNIPEG ARCHIVES In June 1940, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet made its première performance on the Pantages stage. The company danced at the Playhouse until the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall was constructed in 1967.

Schroeder said the WSO believed it was putting in sweat equity and had hoped the city would have taken that into consideration when settling on a buyer.

“All of the investment in time and people and energy and keeping it going and serving the community for seven years apparently was not a factor in consideration. That’s kind of disappointing,” she said.

The WSO had hoped to move its administrative team into the Pantages, while launching a $20-million capital fundraising campaign to upgrade the building’s facilities.

Schroeder said the theatre needs lots of work and will require a significant investment.

“That’s what I think the theatre deserves and that is what I hope it gets.”

Boersma has been involved with some prominent redevelopment projects in the city, including Warehouse 1885, a redevelopment of the historical 104/108 Princess St. warehouses into updated loft-style apartments, and the Terrasse Boisjoli project in St. Norbert, a new, five-storey, mixed-use, multi-family development.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Pantages Playhouse seats were rebuilt, re-upholstered and repainted in 1984.

Schroeder said Boersma and Nicholson had contacted her during the summer to see if the WSO wanted to partner with them in a submission, adding the developers wanted the WSO to continue as theatre manager while they concentrated on development opportunities.

What the developers planned to do didn’t fit with the WSO’s objectives, she said, adding she was intrigued.

“They seemed very interesting and very imaginative kind of guys who have an interest in developing properties in a slightly different way and a different model,” Schroeder said. “I am disappointed in losing out to them, but perhaps they’ll take an interesting approach, and that would be really beautiful.”

Schroeder wouldn’t disclose the terms of the bid the WSO made on the theatre, adding it did require a financial contribution from city hall towards the renovations.

Before the sale can be completed, the theatre will have to be declared surplus by the city.

The sale, if approved by the committee, will still need council’s approval.

The theatre opened in February 1914. The city acquired the property through a tax sale in 1944. There’s been no performances since the start of 2019.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES In 1976, the exterior was sandblasted and painted.

The theatre has been designated an historic and heritage property by city hall, the province and the federal government. As such, it cannot be demolished.

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