British Columbia

Rio Theatre launches campaign for provincial tax exemption

The organizers behind the campaign to save the Rio Theatre have launched a campaign for the venue to get a provincial tax exemption, but some social media users say it's a step too far.

Some social media users say campaign is a step too far

Rio Theatre operator Corinne Lea campaigned for seven months to keep the venue open. (Rio Theatre)

While the campaign to save Vancouver's Rio Theatre was officially deemed a success after its operators reported their offer to buy building was accepted, the venue is now asking for help with another financial burden. 

The Rio's operators have organized a letter-writing campaign to convince the provincial government to grant the theatre an exemption on its property transfer tax, which amounts to around $207,000.

Corinne Lea, owner-operator of the Rio Theatre, says the tax would not affect the group's ability to buy the theatre but without the exemption the operators would have to pay a higher mortgage.

Getting the tax exempted, she says, would help considerably with operating costs.

"All we're trying to do is save on the costs for long-term sustainability. Over the years, if we have an increased mortgage, we have higher monthly payments to pay down that debt," Lea said.

"We're thinking of the future. We're being practical and reasonable."

Social media opposition

But in the Facebook post on the theatre's page that asked for supporters to join the letter-writing campaign, one commentator said the venue had reached a point of "always asking for more and more."

The theatre's operators relied on fundraising, private investors, celebrity cachet and a $375,000 grant from the City of Vancouver to raise the $3.8 million it needed to get approved for a mortgage to buy out the theatre.

But commentators suggested a tax exemption was a step too far, pointing out that all businesses are expected to pay taxes and a petition to change tax law in general would be fairer. Others said any for-profit private investor who invested in the theatre would effectively be getting a tax break.

Lea defended the campaign, saying a portion of the tax benefit would go to the theatre's largest shareholder: the Vancouver Art House Society, a non-profit organization. She said the theatre expected support at the provincial level, and the tax exemption could be the form it takes.

In response, a spokesperson for the province said there is no authority for the minister to provide a for-profit business with an exemption under the Property Transfer Tax Act. However, the spokesperson added the provincial government supports the arts in a number of ways, particularly through grant programs.

"I just feel that there's a lot of online cynicism in general and people think that there's some ulterior motive," Lea said.

"But we're just trying to save the theatre. I know that's hard to believe, but that's actually what our motivation is."

With files from Max Haberstroh

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Corrections

  • In a previous version of this story, the Vancouver Art House Society was incorrectly described as the majority shareholder. In fact, it is the largest shareholder.
    Aug 25, 2018 4:11 PM PT

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