'Historical gem': Displaced dance group welcomes news of Pantages Playhouse sale

The City of Winnipeg is poised to sell the Pantages Playhouse Theatre to new owners who would continue operating the heritage property as a performing arts venue and may develop its plaza along Main Street.

New owners would pay $530K, continue operating theatre and may develop land along Main Street

Winnipeg plans to sell Pantages Playhouse Theatre to buyers who would continue renting it out to community groups. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg is poised to sell the Pantages Playhouse Theatre to new owners who would continue operating the heritage property as a performing-arts venue and may develop its plaza along Main Street.

Next week, city council's property committee will consider a recommendation by city staff to sell the 105-year-old Market Avenue theatre for $530,000 to buyers Alex Boersma and Lars Nicholson.

The city began entertaining proposals for the property last June, with a stated preference for those that would continue operating the theatre.

In a report to council, city real-estate negotiator Julian Roberts says Boersma and Nicholson would do that.

​"The proponent has negotiated a potential partnership with a facility manager to continue to operate the subject city property as a theatre, will offer affordable office space to performing arts groups, and intends to explore the potential for additional development on the site," Roberts says in the report.

Bloody Saturday, at the corner of Main Street and Market Avenue, will be illuminated from the inside. (Noam Gonick)

The additional development would take place on a plaza at the corner Main Street and Market Avenue, but leave room for Bloody Saturday, a piece of public art that is being installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.

"The city will be granted an easement over the northerly corner of the subject city property for installation and maintenance of the artwork," the report says.

The sale requires approval from property committee next week and then executive policy committee and council as a whole later in March.

'Too much of a historical gem'

Tenants and clients who rented space at the Pantages say they were informed of the city's intention to sell last summer, which left many groups scrambling to re-book venues and find alternative office spaces.

After waiting months to learn the future of the space, hearing the theatre would be sold and possibly improved was welcome news to those in the arts community.

"It's too much of a historical gem to see it crumble away," said Nicole Owens, executive director of Dance Manitoba.

The not-for-profit dance group has been holding their spring festival at the Pantages for years and decided to cancel 2019's event after news that the venue would not be available this year.

"It has really put a bit of a hole in the community, there was many dance studios across the province who included the dance festival as part of their season," said Owens.

The 105-year-old Pantages was once a major focal point of the North American theatre circuit. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Each spring, the 18-day festival would see thousands of dancers coming and going, and Owens said Pantages was the only venue that offered adequate space both in the auditorium and back stage.

"The Pantages Playhouse Theatre is only venue within the city of Winnipeg that would meet our needs logistically," she said.

A smaller event will run instead in May at the Club Regent Event Centre, she said.

Owens was pleased to hear that the city has potential buyers in mind, and they plan to keep the venue an affordable rental space.

"There are many local dance studios who have their dance recitals there, and there's also lots of other not-for-profit performing arts groups that utilize that space."

With files from Janice Grant


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