Curtain to rise on $6-million Empress Theatre revival
MONTREAL – The Empress Theatre would be reborn as a venue for Montreal’s vibrant music scene, an institute for analog film heritage and a gathering place where Montrealers can drink, dine and enjoy a breathtaking view from a green rooftop terrace, under a proposal from a Notre Dame de Grâce community organization.
“We’re pretty excited about the proposal,” said Jason Hughes, treasurer and board member of the Empress Cultural Centre.
On Wednesday evening, the centre will unveil a $6-million plan to revive the theatre at 5560 Sherbrooke St. W. as a self-financing cultural complex.
The group is submitting the scheme to the Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce borough, which has called for proposals for redeveloping the heritage theatre facing Girouard Park.
Several unnamed investors are behind the proposed redevelopment, which must be self-financing under rules set by the borough, Hughes said.
The proposal reflects broad input from local residents, he said.
“It’s been interesting to hear people’s hopes for that place, and to say, yeah, we should have that kind of live performance space, that we can support that kind of thing,” Hughes said.
Last year, the C.D.N.-N.D.G. borough took back the Egyptian-style theatre, built in 1927, from the Empress Cultural Centre, saying the centre had failed to come up with a viable plan to redevelop the building in the 12 years it had been in charge of the aging landmark.
But organizers protested that the centre’s new board, elected in September 2010, had not had time to bring the project to fruition.
In January, the borough called for proposals for the building. Proposals must focus on a cultural vocation and be financially self-supporting, Borough Mayor Michal Applebaum said.
The heritage theatre offers exciting possibilities for tapping into Montreal’s cultural effervescence, said award-winning architect Talia Dorsey, who conceived the Empress Cultural Centre’s proposal.
Dorsey, a Montreal native who trained at Princeton and MIT, worked under famed architect and urban theorist Rem Koolhaas in the Netherlands on projects including modernization of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.
She noted N.D.G. is one of Canada’s most artistic districts, after the Plateau, Outremont and Old Montreal, according to a 2005 study by Hill Strategies Research Inc. N.D.G. has five times as many people working in the arts as the national average, she noted.
The study found Montreal is Canada’s most creative city, with five of the country’s 10 most creative neighbourhoods.
The Empress, the only surviving Egyptian-style theatre in Canada, is the ideal setting for a cultural venue serving the entire west end of the city, Dorsey said.
“On a cultural level, there’s real appreciation for that kind of aura and authenticity,” she said.
Under the centre’s proposal, the revitalized theatre would house both live performance and film screenings, serve the city’s thriving recording industry as a venue for live recordings and commemorate the age of the silver screen as a showcase for and research institute on analog (celluloid) film.
An in-house restaurant and café would promote urban agriculture projects by featuring local products.
A rooftop garden would include a terrace for small weddings and other events. Musicians and other visitors could rent short-term accommodation on upper floors of the renovated theatre.
Remembered by many as the Cinema V repertory theatre, the long-vacant art deco building was bought by the city in 1999.
In February, Héritage Montréal listed the Empress as one of the city’s 10 most important endangered heritage sites.
François Puchin, a borough communications officer, said officials will not comment on any of the proposals before the winning design is selected. The deadline for submitting proposals is Friday.
An evaluation committee will choose the winning proposal on June 1 and the borough council will approve the choice on June 26.
The Empress Cultural Centre will unveil its proposal at a meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Coop La Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke St. W.