Although some renovations have been done, some supporters worry about the future of the Strand Theatre project, after hearing news that the federal government declined a funding request.
A meeting with the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society is in order to review how the Strand Theatre project can proceed without federal grants, said Renaissance Brandon’s Braden Pilling.
"We need to sit down with them because there could be some other options," Pilling said. "We’ll consider that and keep our existing agreement current."
Renaissance Brandon’s deadline for securing funding, which has been extended previously, is now Dec. 31. Canadian Heritage informed Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society (BFMAS) on March 14 that its request for $1.8 million was denied over concerns about the group’s business plan for the Strand, though it invited the group to reapply for $1.2 million, BFMAS artistic director Shandra MacNeill said on Wednesday. The Brandon Sun reported in Aug. 19, 2011, that the province would contribute $1 million, with another $1 million to be raised through private or other means.
Renaissance Brandon has already spent $100,000 of a $474,000 over two years commitment toward the $4-million Strand Theatre restoration project, to help keep the building stable. That commitment is contingent on the federal and provincial grants being approved, Pilling said, adding they must come on board by the Dec. 31 deadline.
"If they aren’t able to get funding from two levels of government within the time frame, the agreement becomes null and void," Pilling said. "We’ve given them a couple of extensions so they can get through this process. If worst-case scenario happens, our funding commitment goes away."
While the BFMAS has known for a month their initial request had been rejected, several community partners involved in the project were shocked to have heard little until recently that the local group’s funding had not come through.
Renaissance Brandon chairman Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser) told the Sun he has asked for a meeting with senior city officials about the current state of the Strand Theatre project and deferred comment until after that meeting had taken place.
"It seems you have more information than me," Roberts said.
Coun. Len Isleifson (Riverview), a member of the Renaissance Brandon board, had previously expressed concerns over the proposed business plan offered by BFMAS.
"I have always said I didn’t support putting money into the project, but not because I didn’t believe in the project," Isleifson said.
"There was no sound business plan. It missed a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t give me the warm, fuzzy feeling that things would actually proceed. If they went out and started a fundraising campaign a year ago and really pushed it and showed this would happen because they raised $600,000 or whatever and asked governments to put in the rest, then it’s a very viable project. But they didn’t do that."
Isleifson said he had concerns about putting public money into a project that might not get completed.
He was also concerned there was no plan for how BFMAS would deal with funding shortfalls if one or several funding partners had pulled their money from the project.
"We’ve talked about putting an entertainment complex downtown and to me, that’s what this is," Isleifson said. "To get something going, you still need a sound business plan that you can promote and fall back on. To me, that’s not there."
Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said the city has not shelled out any money for the project, save for the Renaissance Brandon $100,000 already spent. However, the focus on downtown entertainment complex remains in play, she said.
"We continue to push forward with that objective of enhancing the entertainment and cultural amenities downtown," Decter Hirst said. "It’s not dependent on one facility. The Double Decker plays a role. The library plays a role. We want to make sure we continue working towards a downtown entertainment venue."
Decter Hirst added that sometimes groups seeking funding need to apply more than once to actually see dollars flow into their projects and that this could be one of those cases.
She used Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre as an example of this.
"Now it’s a thriving centre," Decter Hirst. "What we need to do is look at what the federal government perceives to be weaknesses in the case and put our best case forward and keep an eye on the Dec. 31 deadline because the building itself has structural reinforcement, but it won’t stand forever."
Landmark Cinemas currently owns the Strand Theatre, but calls placed to chief operating officer Neil Campbell were not returned.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 27, 2012