The future of Alberta’s oldest theatre is up in the air.
The 112-year-old Grand Theatre in downtown Calgary might have to close its doors after negotiations failed to reduce the rent or find a new business model.
The building has staged countless shows and has had multiple renovations, most recently in 2006.
“When you walk in, you just have a really incredible feeling. There’s so much history here and, yeah, I’m going to be absolutely devastated if we need to make the difficult decision to shut the doors,” Calgary Grand Theatre Society board chair Devon LeClair said.
After the Calgary Grand Theatre Society sold the space to Allied Properties REIT in 2021, the society tried to renegotiate a new lease with Allied.
In an effort to find economic alternatives, the society reached out to a kindred community partner: Arts Commons.
Arts Commons president and CEO Alex Sarian said the invitation was to “very informally explore new business models” in leveraging Arts Commons’ experience in running theatres, existing economies of scale and relationships.
Sarian said Arts Commons also has a track record of providing artists and arts organizations access to amenities at more affordable rates.
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“The business model behind that, whether here or anywhere else, is a very surgical combination of fundraising and earned revenues, and those are things that we do here every day. And so to be able to extend that beyond Arts Commons, to make sure that others in Calgary are benefiting from it, would have been wonderful,” Sarian said.
The society said, following more than a year of “productive discussions and feasibility planning,” Allied rejected the proposal in mid-January.
“Discussions need to happen, sooner rather than later. If a new tenancy agreement can’t be reached, we will have to close our doors,” LeClair said.
Allied Properties did not respond to requests for comment from Global News.
In its latest quarterly results, the real estate investment trust said it suffered a $499-million net loss in Q4 2023, in part due to a $425-million decline in rental properties in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, and a $70-million drop in property valuations in Toronto and Montreal.
But Allied’s rental revenue from all of its properties rose, reaching $151 million in Q4 2023 when compared to $136 million the same quarter the year before. And Allied’s rental revenues in 2023 were 8.6-per cent higher when compared to 2022, while its property operating costs fell 10.1 per cent.
According to Allied’s website, much of the office space in the adjoining Lougheed Building is immediately available to lease.
The last few years have seen a glut of office space available in Calgary’s downtown, as well as a flight to more premium spaces. The latest figures from CBRE show the city’s downtown vacancy at 30.2 per cent in Q4 2023, following a third consecutive quarter of positive net absorption of office space.
The society said it will continue to act in good faith with its landlord to keep the theatre running.
“We don’t need to be the folks running the theatre,” LeClair said. “We just want to ensure that it is sustainable and that performances are happening here 100 years in the future.”
The Grand Theatre opened on Feb. 5, 1912, the same year as the inaugural Calgary Stampede.
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