Heritage and Cultural and Economic Development

From Herb Auerbach

There are several major issues to be addressed in the preservation and restoration of theatres in Vancouver, like the York and he Vogue. They are Heritage, Cultural Infrastructure, Cultural Development, and Economic Development. There are also environmental issues around the use of materials and energy required for new construction, and around the disposal of the proceeds of demolition that should also be a consideration if we take a holistic approach to these projects.

Heritage

It is important for a City to preserve its heritage. There are many aspects to determining the heritage and historic value of a structure and it needs some process to determine what is of historical value. We cannot afford to save everything nor is everything worth saving

The City can provide incentives, as it has, to preserve projects because they have heritage, historic, or aesthetic value to induce the private sector to make this happen. However, if it is decided that a building has historic value, and there is no mechanism through which it can be maintained by the private sector or through a public private partnership, then it is appropriate for government to step in the common community interest.

Cultural Infrastructure

The City requires cultural infrastructure. There are many reports articulating this need. The last major report resulted in the establishment of the Coal Harbour Theatre Society with the idea of creating two needed theatres on the Marathon lands, one with 1500 seats and one with 650 seats.

The society of citizens constituted to realize theatre infrastructure has $10 million in the bank. It is hard to imagine an existing theatre that could be renovated to create a 1500 seat lyric opera house. However, if the City really needs a 650 seat second stage, as all studies have concluded, then an appropriate renovation of the Vogue could provide it. The City should have bought it when it was for sale.

The post office building could provide a shell to meet all the cultural, visual, and performing arts needs of the City, creating a critical mass in one central and powerful location.

Cultural Development

One could ask, “If the art deco marquee is maintained, what is wrong with the Vogue being converted to a cabaret or club? Won’t that help animate Granville Street as much if not more than a theatre?”

Theatres need users, – people on the stage and people in the seats. Most theatres have users who help support the hardware and software of the facility. The Stanley Theatre has the Arts Club. The Orpheum Theatre has the Symphony. The Playhouse Theatre has the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre has the Vancouver Opera and Ballet BC and Vancouver Opera, although both need an 1800 seat hall since the Queen Elizabeth is too large for them. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, the Firehall Theatre, and the Dance Centre are operated by non-profit societies mad viable by the network of users that keep those spaces occupied. The Bard on the Beach has its tents.

If the owners of the Vogue are willing to sell the theatre, we need one or more credible and substantial groups to surface with the interest or resources to acquire, restore, and operate the Vogue. Who would run and occupy the Vogue? It could be a road show and rental venue, or become home for an organization like Bard on the Beach who could use it for a winter house, or the Playhouse Theatre Company who might wish to replace their existing City run facility, freeing the Civic Theatre Playhouse for multiple use as required by the needs study.

Economic Development

Cultural infrastructure animates the City and generates economic development. It also contributes to making cities socially and culturally attractive for business and tourism.
With the exception of experiences related to the Aboriginal community, tourists are not coming to Vancouver for the cultural experience. If we want to make Vancouver a destination for cultural travel, we need to take steps to improve the quality of performance art and the display of visual art in our City to the highest possible levels by getting the human and financial resources needed to our performing and creative organizations.

Vancouver is a very small and special cultural place with a relatively small pool of people from which to draw its audiences or patrons. There are a limited number of corporate headquarters to provide support. Much of the decision-making for that support, and for federal government support, takes place far away in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Cultural institutions in Vancouver have to bridge this divide, compete locally for funds with health and educational facilities, and compete for the attention of audiences who are also stimulated by the many outdoor activities Vancouver offers.

Recommendations

The development of cultural infrastructure cannot take place without the creation of endowment funding to assure the viable operation of our facilities

We should create an independent Cultural Infrastructure Authority similar to the Airport Authority to replace the Civic Theatres Department and create an assured source of funding to create infrastructure, and to provide operating funds to user groups.

Create the ability to issue tax free municipal bonds for the development of cultural infrastructure particularly for theatres, the development of the cultural precinct, and the acquisition and retrofitting of the Post Office as a mixed use cultural palace.

In the absence of being able to issue municipal bonds, create more incentives for private investors and for the creation of public private partnerships.

Use the $10 million of Marathon funds to acquire and renovate the York Theatre and turn it over to the Coal Harbour Theatre Society or a newly created Cultural Infrastructure Authority to operate.

If the owners are not prepared to sell and the City is not prepared to make a deal and put up the necessary dollars, we will have to let the Vogue go, but we should take steps to protect the marquee. The interior would be toast.

Determine how the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee’s cultural planning and spending can contribute to creating the City’s cultural infrastructure, and to supporting our cultural organizations.

Determine how to communicate more effectively and support communications to lobby for funding support from both Ottawa and Victoria.

Continue to enhance art, music, dance, and theatre appreciation in the schools.

Establish programs that encourage creative people to come to live and work in Vancouver.

Prepared by:
Herb Auerbach
Vancouver BC
October 4, 2007