Council considers if Nanaimo Centre Stage worth more investment

NANAIMO – City council called for a staff report to help determine future investment in the Victoria Road theatre

Five years after purchasing Nanaimo Centre Stage, civic leaders want to know if it’s worth further investment.

Nanaimo city council has commissioned a new ‘comprehensive’ report to set the stage for future debate on investment in the 100-seat theatre.

The call for information was unanimous during a budget meeting Nov. 6 and will look at issues ranging from potential funding requirements to the number of user groups and costs to operate Centre Stage. According to Mayor John Ruttan, there is “lots” of community concern the city is throwing good money after bad with the Victoria Road building. At the same time, the Port Theatre wants to know if the city plans to contribute to its proposed performance stage.

Before any decisions are made, councillors need to know the condition of the  city-owned Centre Stage building and what it will take to make it viable, he said.

Early estimates pegged the cost to renovate the building’s exterior at $800,000, but city staff members warned they won’t know the total expense until they open up the building. They also said there will be ongoing costs to maintain the 118-year-old structure.

“[People have asked] is this still a building worth investing in and the answer is we need more background information,”  Ruttan said. “With that, we can sit down and look at what we’ve got and make a decision on how best to move ahead.”

If the report determines the costs to keep Centre Stage are massive, “it will definitely have bearing on how we will proceed,” he said, adding he’d rather see a heavy investment made in the Port Theatre.

Discussion about theatre expenses was revived in October, when city councillors agreed to increase the budget for wall repairs by $34,700. Coun. Bill McKay said then that he believed the additional expense was only the tip of the iceberg and called for officials to consider investment alternatives, like the Port Theatre’s studio stage. He recently made the motion for staff to prepare a report, which he says will give the city proven figures to determine whether Centre Stage is the best place for investment.

“My concern is investing another million dollars in a … building that really doesn’t have any significant heritage value. It’s just a building and is there other solutions out there that we can look at?” McKay asked.

Camela Tang, president of the group managing Centre Stage, expects the report will show the theatre is a good investment. But she says it is unfortunate city officials are seeing two theatre venues as an ‘either-or’ situation.

“Could they not both exist?” she asked of the Port Theatre studio and Centre Stage. “We are on the heels of … the cultural plan, where it was very clearly identified that we must explore the need for small performance spaces. We should think [about] how we can accommodate both.”