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Management group sought to run Nanaimo Centre Stage

City officials are on the search for a new theatre operator, in the wake of a planned exit by Centre for the Arts Nanaimo.

Nanaimo city council decided to send out a request for proposals for new management of the 100-seat theatre at Nanaimo Centre Stage.

The arrangement would give new operators a three-year term and $11,350 annual subsidy. It’s the same deal that former management organization Centre for the Arts Nanaimo turned down in March. The group had sought $40,000 in funding for 2014 and a five-year contract and said it was unable to oversee the building under the alternative licence of use agreement.

At an open meeting Monday, city staff members proposed the municipality seek a new manager rather than try to oversee the facility itself. If the city took over management, it would divert staff members from their current duties, increase liability and veer away from Nanaimo’s strategic direction, which is to see city-owned culture and heritage facilities operated by others, according to a report.

If the city can’t find a manager, staff recommended politicians list the performing arts space for sale.

Coun. Bill McKay had hoped to see the building offered for sale as a second option in the RFP process, saying he knows of an interested party and wants to give the arts community a chance to both own and operate the theatre. But while there was no commitment to keep the building at 25 Victoria Rd., the majority of councillors voted to take one step at a time. There were concerns about the ability to ensure the building remained a theatre venue if it was sold and the potential to complicate the RFP process.

“I think what we are trying to do is provide an opportunity for small groups to put on theatre and productions ... and I think we have an obligation to try to make this work,” said Mayor John Ruttan. “I just sort of worry about the message we are sending to these groups is that, yeah, we support you, yeah, we’d like to give you an inexpensive venue to put your theatre or plays on with, but to be honest with you we’d rather make a buck on it and walk away.”

The RFP process will look to fill the management gap left by the Centre for the Arts, which plans to bow out of the operation of the theatre at the end of June.

Coun. Diane Brennan said the process will be a test of council’s perception of 25 Victoria Rd. and will show if it can be managed for $11,350 a year. She agreed with Ruttan that it’s not the time to allow the sale of the building. The city should go step by step with its plan and “see what happens,” she said.

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