Temporary closure becomes permanent Downtown loses last commercial movie theatre as Towne 8 goes up for sale
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The final credits are rolling for downtown Winnipeg’s last commercial movie theatre, which is on the market six months after what was supposed to be a temporary closure.
For sale signs went up at Towne Cinema 8 on Thursday, after owner Landmark Cinemas decided to make the closure permanent following 40 years of screenings.
With an asking price of $2.25 million, the eight-screen theatre on Notre Dame Avenue, between Princess and Adelaide streets, is being marketed as a redevelopment opportunity for multi-family residential units, commercial space or a mix.
“We know there was a loyal audience that wanted to see that theatre survive,” said Bill Walker, CEO of Calgary-based Landmark Cinemas.
However, attendance was down “dramatically” and there were staffing challenges after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the chain held ticket prices at $5, he said.
Walker said the company didn’t see a way to make the capital investments — about $4-5 million — needed to modernize the theatre.
It was Canada’s first eight-plex movie theatre when it opened in August 1981, with the satirical comedy Blazing Saddles among its first showings, said Brent Bellamy, who was a Towne 8 customer until it closed in July 2022.
“It’s definitely heartbreaking,” Bellamy, an architect and board chair of CentreVenture Development Corp., said of the closure. “It’s a shame because they had just redone the seats. Any time I was there, there were always people in line.”
Bellamy, who is also a Free Press columnist, was pleased to see the theatre survive the COVID-19 pandemic (restrictions forced theatres to close) and continue to serve the neighbourhood.
“This is a piece of livability that’s gone now,” he said.
When Towne 8 held its final screenings last year, Landmark Cinemas informed customers the closure would be temporary.
Walker said the company re-evaluated the situation and was “on the fence” until late last year.
The prudent decision, according to the CEO, was to make it a permanent closure and sell the building.
“We know there was a loyal audience that wanted to see that theatre survive.”–Bill Walker, CEO of Calgary-based Landmark Cinemas
An agreement to list the building was signed within the last week.
The closure leaves the arthouse Cinematheque as the lone movie theatre in downtown Winnipeg, which used to have several cinemas decades ago.
Landmark Cinemas closed its Globe Cinema at Portage Place in June 2014, just over a year after the closure of the IMAX theatre in the same shopping mall.
Walker insists the narrative of challenges within the movie theatre industry, including declining interest as viewers choose to stream films at home, is overstated.
Attendance at Cinemas 8 Grant Park, one of the company’s three remaining theatres in Manitoba, is strong, he said.
For Towne 8, it’s a story of downtown theatres which have no adjacent or free parking, and a lack of density, said Walker.
He noted Winnipeg and Regina are the only cities in Canada to have a tax on movie tickets. Regina recently voted to eliminate its tax in 2024.
Walker is appreciative of movie-goers who remained loyal to Towne 8 until the end.
He knows the closure will be sad news for Winnipeggers who have fond memories of first dates or watching their first movie at the theatre.
“What I hope is it still can be a fond memory, and the property will get a new life,” he said.
Winnipeg-based Capital Commercial Real Estate Services Inc. is handling the sale of the property.
Rennie Zegalski, a principal with the firm, said there was already some interest before the theatre was listed.
With an assessed land area of just over 2,000 square metres, the property has no heritage designation and is zoned “C” for character.
There will be a restriction on operating a cinema at the site in the future, said Zegalski.
He touted the property as an opportunity to be part of the Exchange District with great exposure, given its location on Notre Dame Avenue.
“It’s a nice opportunity for someone or some organization looking to open or build their concept in downtown,” he said.
Bellamy is hoping to see something creative.
“Hopefully, it becomes a nice residential project,” he said.
Landmark Cinemas also has theatres in Brandon and Winkler.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.