Saturday, 19 Sep 2020

A condo project for Empress Theatre? Montreal city councillor says it should be considered

It sits on Sherbrooke Street like a ghostly reminder of a bygone era and while no decorations hang from it, the deteriorating Empress Theatre may be the scariest sight on Halloween night.

There have been several plans to gut and renovate the interior, restore the exterior and breathe some much-needed life back into this iconic building — but not a single proposal has materialized.

Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand argues the time may have come for the city to sell the historic site and convert it into condos.

That’s what happened with the historic Snowdon Theatre on Decarie Boulevard. It suffered a small fire and was eventually sold to a developer by the city and it is being renovated for a housing project.

Montreal has owned the Empress Theatre for 23 years. It’s been closed for 26 following a devastating fire in 1992.

The building currently has a municipal value of $1,169,700, according to Montreal’s most recent valuation role.

“If it doesn’t come out of something that is community based, the city should be looking at housing or something else on the site,” Rotrand told Global News.

The Empress Theatre opened in 1927. Its Egyptian insignia and intricate details made it the crown jewel of the neighbourhood for live performances.

While the fire destroyed the interior, the outside of the building has been left to decay.

“You kind of want to put your faith in the fact that the city is going to step in and take over and do something with that,” Emily McLean, who runs a yoga class next door, told Global News.

“But it’s a bit frustrating in that sense because nothing seems like is going to happen.”

There have been several proposals to renovate the Empress Theatre in recent years. The most recent idea came from Mk2 Film in the fall of 2017, but the cinema distribution company based in France pulled out this summer.

“Do we wait another five, 10, 15 years or do we do something different?” Rotrand said.

Neighbouring hair stylist Joseph Mathieu of Joe and Charlie Hair Salon would also like to see something done.

“Just really wish something would happen to it, you know? Something that would bring people to the area, you know, just something fun,” Mathieu told Global News.

City councillor Peter McQueen, who represents the NDG district, told Global News the city is working on plans and there maybe something to save the Empress Theatre in Montreal’s 2019 budget but he wouldn’t elaborate.

The budget is scheduled to be released Nov. 8.

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