NDG council to vote on seizing Empress Theatre

Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce council will vote to take control of the Empress Theatre from a non-profit board that was looking for a developer to renovate the historic building.
Montreal's Empress Theatre was built in 1927. (CBC)

A historic theatre in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough has become the focal point of controversy after reports that the local council plans to take control of the building at a meeting Monday night.

The Empress Theatre, located at 5560 Sherbrooke Street West, opened in 1927 and features an Egyptian-themed art deco design. However, it was gutted by fire in 1992 and has fallen into a state of disrepair.

The non-profit Empress Cultural Centre board has been working over the past 12 months to find a developer willing to save the building, which is also known as Cinema V.

But, the NDG borough council plans to vote Monday night to seize the building from the board. The resolution on the agenda does not explain why council wants to take control.

Jason Hughes, a member of the Empress board, said news of the vote came without warning.

"We were surprised that in the middle of summer when a lot of people are away that this resolution is going to be put forward to take back the building," he said.

However, the director of culture for the NDG borough, Gilles Bergeron, said the board was moving too slowly, adding it knew of the takeover a year ago.

"They didn't show any concrete project so we had to make a move," he said.

If the vote passes, Bergeron said the borough would maintain the building and seek public proposals, including those from the current Empress board members.

NDG Councillor Peter McQueen said he will move to delay vote.

"The city accepted that the board was making new progress so I'm quite shocked," he said.

NDG mayor Michael Applebaum could not be reached for comment.

The Facebook group Save the Empress is calling on local citizens to attend Monday's meeting to voice their objection to the plan to seize control of the building.