British Columbia

Rio Theatre operators say their offer to buy building has been accepted

The operators of a threatened East Vancouver cinema say their offer to buy the building has been accepted.

Business partners say they have 60 days to raise funds to buy theatre

The owner of the Rio Theatre's next step is to organise enough investors to be able to afford a down payment on the property (Cory Correia/CBC News)

The operators of a threatened East Vancouver cinema say their offer to buy the building in hope of saving one of the city's last independent movie theatres has been accepted.

"Our offer was accepted — for now," said a tweet posted late Wednesday night on The Rio Theatre's official account. "We have it. We did it."

Corinne Lea had said she and her business partner made an offer to buy The Rio Theatre on Wednesday. She said she can't say how much they bid due to confidentiality, but said it was higher than the building's recent assessment of $4.3 million to match the developer's offer.

"We were concerned because developers were driving the price up and we feared it would go beyond our reach," she said. "We kind of came up with some creative ways to solve that and we managed to get our offer accepted last night."

Lea told the Canadian Press via email that they now have 60 days to raise the funds to buy the theatre, adding, "it ain't cheap."

Lea began trying to raise enough money to buy the property after it was listed for sale. She said if the offer was accepted, she would still need to assemble more investors and fundraise, but many people have already pledged money.

"We basically need to generate the equivalent of a small island nation's GDP in a matter of, uh … weeks," read a tweet on the theatre's page.

Film community offers support 

Lea earlier said they have "been overwhelmed" with support, adding that a petition to save the Rio had garnered more than 20,000 signatures.

"My email is just inundated with people who want to make serious investments to people who want to give us $100. We've got the whole range."

Actors and directors, including filmmaker Kevin Smith, threw their support behind the beloved East Vancouver theatre, known for its lively late-night screenings of cult classics, science fiction and horror movies.

Smith, director of comedies Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, said on Twitter he would be happy to hold a benefit screening to raise some cash. The Vancouver Film School alumni and self-professed "Vancouver lover" said he couldn't afford to buy the building himself.

"I haven't had a hit movie in years!" he tweeted, adding: "Wait a second: Have I EVER had a hit movie?"

Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9 and Chappie, also offered to help on social media, suggesting a showing of short films made by his Vancouver-based Oats Studios.

Benefit show may be in the wings

Lea said her team had been speaking with Smith and would move ahead with a benefit show if her offer on the building was accepted.

She previously owned the property but had to put it up for sale in 2011. She said it was purchased at that time by theatre magnate Leonard Schein.

However, Schein said he does not own the building. He said he and another individual put up the mortgage on the property but it is owned by a company called 1660 East Broadway, which he said has several shareholders and he is not among them. The shareholders do not wish to be public, he said.

Schein said he took Lea's offer to the owners and it looked "very good." He said he was not aware of other offers, but Lea said there were several.

An archival photo shows the intersection of Broadway and Commercial Drive in the 1940s, looking to the west. The Rio Theatre's marquee can be seen in the background. (CBC)

The prospect of the theatre's closure prompted an outcry from local film lovers and industry members.

Actors who have shared the petition to save the Rio with their Twitter followers include Elijah Wood, who played Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Vancouver-born Finn Wolfhard, the 15-year-old star of Stranger Things and It.

The theatre also plays host to burlesque, comedy, improv, spoken word and variety shows. Its popular screenings of Tommy Wiseau's cult film The Room draw costumed attendees yelling out lines from the notorious movie.

James Franco, who portrays Wiseau in the Academy Award-nominated The Disaster Artist, has said he went to a screening of The Room in Vancouver and was blown away by the electric atmosphere in the crowd.

The City of Vancouver has said a developer would have to include a movie theatre on the property, but the Rio's operators say that doesn't ensure the same size or a live performance space.

"During construction, East Van would be left with a cavernous hole in the ground, staff would lose their livelihoods, and thousands of patrons and performers  — like you — would lose a beloved cultural space," the operators say in the petition.

A number of independent theatres in Vancouver have closed or been purchased by larger operators in recent years. Fifth Avenue Cinemas and the Park Theatre, both previously owned by Schein, were sold to Cineplex in 2013.

With files from Susana Da Silva/CBC News