Lo­cal buy­ers who aim to keep 1930s-era movie house open say their con­di­tional of­fer is ac­cepted

Ex-Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Fred Fuchs in­volved

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - ANDREW DRESCHEL Andrew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

A not-for-profit group of lo­cal in­vestors has pur­chased the his­toric Westdale The­atre, al­le­vi­at­ing com­mu­nity con­cerns about the build­ing’s fate.

Graham Craw­ford, one of four back­ers who in­tend to re­store the land­mark 1930s cin­ema, says a con­di­tional pur­chase of­fer from the group was re­cently ac­cepted.

“Our of­fer was ac­cepted by the owner but we’re go­ing through the process of in­spec­tion and eval­u­at­ing the con­di­tions that were part of the of­fer,” said Craw­ford, a well­known com­mu­nity ac­tivist, arts sup­porter and pod­caster.

Ac­cord­ing to Craw­ford, in­spec­tion of the 6,630-square-foot build­ing in the heart of Westdale Vil­lage has al­ready taken place.

“It’s due dili­gence, pure and sim­ple,” he said. “We’ll have full of­fi­cial re­ports on Tues­day.”

The movie house, lo­cated at 1014 King St. W., is owned by the Toronto-based fam­ily of long­time owner Peter Sorokolit, who died in 2015. The Westdale opened in the fall of 1935.

The cin­ema, which has been in de­cline for decades, was put on the sales block on Dec. 22 for $1.79 mil­lion.

Craw­ford prefers not to re­veal what the pur­chase of­fer was “for the time be­ing,” but he notes the group isn’t seek­ing any gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance for buy­ing the build­ing.

“We’re ac­tu­ally speak­ing with lo­cal phi­lan­thropists and arts sup­port­ers to help us put up all the money that’s ac­tu­ally re­quired to pur­chase the build­ing, then we’ll be­gin fundrais­ing and ap­ply­ing for grants to help ren­o­vate the build­ing.”

Be­sides Craw­ford, the group con­sists of Fred Fuchs, Bob Crock­ford and Jeremy Freiburger. Of­fi­cially named the Westdale Cin­ema Group, Craw­ford says the reg­is­tered not-for-profit will also be ap­ply­ing for char­i­ta­ble sta­tus. The plan is to do a “state-of-the-art restora­tion.” The build­ing’s ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures will be pre­served and it will be used for screen­ing art and in­de­pen­dent films as well as a space for mu­sic, read­ings and lec­tures.

“It will be pri­mar­ily cin­ema, but we def­i­nitely want to re­vi­tal­ize the build­ing and space by mak­ing it mul­ti­pur­pose,” said Craw­ford.

Ward 1 Coun. Ai­dan John­son, whose ward in­cludes the cin­ema, is de­lighted by the de­vel­op­ment. “This is a good news story,” John­son said.

A big fan of the old bi­jou, John­son helped draw at­ten­tion to its fad­ing charms through a coun­cil mo­tion to speed up an ap­pli­ca­tion for the build­ing’s heritage des­ig­na­tion.

John­son also suc­cess­fully stick­han­dled the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing Ward 1 area-rat­ing in­fras­truc­ture funds to help up­grade the build­ing’s heritage fea­tures. He needed to get buy-in from his par­tic­i­pa­tory bud­get ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee be­cause the dead­line for sub­mit­ting fund­ing pro­pos­als had al­ready passed.

Craw­ford says the project is not con­tin­gent on land­ing any Ward 1 money but it would cer­tainly help and be ap­pre­ci­ated.

Ac­cord­ing to John­son, he’ll need to see the fi­nan­cial plan and other fund­ing sources for the cin­ema be­fore any plan is cre­ated for us­ing Ward 1 tax dol­lars. “There’s still work to be done; it’s not at all a done deal.”

The prospect of us­ing area-rat­ing dol­lars may also en­counter ac­tive re­sis­tance. Mark Coak­ley, chair of the Ainslie Wood Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, one of John­son’s neigh­bour­hood groups, has no in­ter­est in see­ing ward funds go­ing to the the­atre.

Though the as­so­ci­a­tion has not staked out a po­si­tion, Coak­ley is per­son­ally op­posed for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. Among other things, he ar­gues putting money into the the­atre is a “frill” com­pared to help­ing the “gap­ing so­cial needs” of his neigh­bour­hood, which he says is much less af­flu­ent than Westdale.

“It’s an elit­ist project,” says Coak­ley. “Artis­tic ex­pres­sion and a sense of com­mu­nity are im­por­tant but they’re not as im­por­tant as deal­ing with poverty, deal­ing with chil­dren who have no place to play.”

John­son re­jects the idea that help­ing the cin­ema is elit­ist. “The Westdale cin­ema is a sec­u­lar sa­cred place. It’s a place where peo­ple of all classes and neigh­bour­hoods and ed­u­ca­tions lev­els … find com­mu­nity to­gether.”

It sounds like it could also be­come a fo­cal point for com­pet­ing neigh­bour­hood pri­or­i­ties.

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