No reprieve for theatre

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Town remains committed to moving into Dominion Public Building at end of month

The town is not going to change its mind on asking Tantramar Theatre to vacate the Dominion Public Building at the end of the month.

Amherst is not going to change its mind on asking Tantramar Theatre to vacate the Dominion Public Building at the end of the month.

While there has been growing pressure on the town to allow the theatre to remain in the former post office facility on Victoria Street, Mayor Robert Small said the town is moving ahead with renovations to the historic building so it can become the new home of town hall this fall.

"The decision is final. Council has made its decision on what the plan is for that building and we're moving ahead with that," Small said. "I've heard from the ones who don't want us to proceed, but I've also heard from the ones who are telling us we're doing the right thing and we should keep going."

In recent weeks, there has been a growing call for the town to hold a public meeting on the subject or hold off on the move until a plebiscite can be held.

In a letter to the editor, Amherst resident and Crown attorney Bruce Baxter questioned the town's budget for renovating the Dominion Building and fears it could become another atrium project - a throwback to the failed downtown development project in the early 1990s.

He said a public meeting is needed before the town proceeds.

"Perhaps I've missed something, but a decision this major requires a full public debate to educate those, like me, who remain mystified," Baxter said in his letter. "If the decision is based on reason, logic and common sense, the mayor and council should have no problem explaining and defending it."

Baxter said a plebiscite, under Section 53 of the Municipal Government Act, is required. Small said there are no plans for a public meeting or a plebiscite on the issue.

"Tantramar Theatre is an important part of our community and they've done a lot of good things. Reality is they have to find a new home to operate out of," Small said.

Small said work has begun at the Victoria Street building to begin converting it into town hall. He expects that work will move into full swing when the theatre leaves at the end of May. The mayor said the town doesn't want to interfere with the theatre's operations during its final weeks in the building.

The mayor remains optimistic that council will hold its first meeting in the building in September. It's waiting on a preliminary design for the first floor, where the council chamber will be located, and tenders will soon be called for the work.

Bette Douglas of Tantramar Theatre said she is extremely disappointed to hear the mayor's position. She calls the move baffling.

"The town's decision to move from a perfectly fine town hall, one and a half blocks away, and plan to spend the several million dollars it will doubtless take to make the changes they want, and to make both of these decisions without talking to the people, or even listening to the groundswell against both of these actions, shows a total lack of democratic consultation," Douglas said. "We ask that both of these actions be put off until after our fall election when we swear in our new mayor and council."

As for the existing town hall, the mayor would still like to see it used as a new home for the police department. In March, consultants Rebanks Pepper Littlewood Architects said the most cost effective thing to do would be to build a new facility for the police department. The consultants said renovating town hall would cost at least $5 million.

The mayor said a decision on that likely would not be made until after the October municipal election.

Organizations: Tantramar Theatre, Dominion Building, Rebanks Pepper Littlewood Architects

Geographic location: Victoria Street

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Recent comments

  • Biff It
    May 11, 2012 - 06:44

    Too bad for the SACKVILLE, NB people who lose their catering job that the tax payers of Amherst were subsidizing.

  • reality check
    May 04, 2012 - 23:35

    Hmmm did anyone else hear that Zellers is closing? Hmmm a major employer in this town for over 35 years! Oh but yes..The Tantramar Theater has a staff of 3? and we will fight to the end to keep this pubic purse draining organization afloat? I seen the play Titanic...I do not know who built the set..whoever you are you are a master carpenter .. Bottom line..The money spent on this set might pay an unemployed zellers workers UI benefits for a year . Think about it.

    • nat
      May 11, 2012 - 17:53

      zellers is being bought out by target. be mad at big companies for that one!

  • Auditorium
    May 04, 2012 - 20:03

    Did the old school scheduled for renovations not have an auditorium. What a great spot that would be if it was part of the fixin' up. Plenty of room for offices in the classrooms.

  • Jack Frost
    May 04, 2012 - 06:49

    This is the first I`ve heard of this and I don`t think it`s a bad idea.

  • Chuck
    May 03, 2012 - 19:27

    I guess we will discover how many tax payers disagreed with the town's decision, to move the present town hall, at election time in October ?????

    • sueb
      May 08, 2012 - 08:29

      I think we will indeed see how the taxpayers feel, but I think you and the handful of others who tout the theatre's propaganda will find out more voters agree with the town's decision than not. It's baffling anyone with any financial acumen at all would see funding the theatre to the tune of hundreds of thousands as even remotely a reasonable or feasible option. The Dominion Building shouldn't be the sole reason this theatre exists. If Tantramar Theatre has single-handedly created the town's cultural identity, as Ms. Douglas implies, then it will do just find in another location.

  • Gone But Not Forgotten
    May 03, 2012 - 16:07

    It is sad to see that three decades after leaving Amherst, the same petty arguements and issues are front and centre for the town. Betty Douglas and the Theaterites have always been misguided in their thinking that their form of cultural drivel is actually important. This is nothing more than bloated self-ego. Theatre...get over it. Move on. Become self-sustaing and employ people instead of being a continuos drain on the public purse. Amhers needs to move forward, become competitive and allow its residents to thrive economically. Then, and only then, can it afford to prop up organizations such as Tantramar Theatre.

    • Jack Frost
      May 05, 2012 - 07:20

      I`ve just read the Herald`s article and Betty truly thinks the town revolves around her theater. Get a grip girl and I agree with this poster completely.

    • John G. McKay
      May 09, 2012 - 09:13

      The individual who wrote GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN - May 4 is so ill informed about Tantramar Theatre and its supposed 'drain on the public purse' that it's amazing the editors even bothered to post it. The Theatre has been one of the most successful businesses in the downtown and is certainly no drain on the public purse. Whatever renovations are required to bring the building up to standard, they will have to be carried out no matter who occupies it, the theatre or the town hall. And it has never been 'propped up' by anyone. It has paid its way through the quality and quantity of the entertainment it provides.

    • Robert
      May 09, 2012 - 12:05

      So what you're saying, John, that is if the Theater was permitted to stay, and the building required a million dollar upgrade, that the theater would be paying for it themselves (after purchasing the property of course)... or would they expect us to do it for them (after refusing to purchase the property)? If they can't afford to properly upkeep, upgrade and maintain the building (including all fee's taxes, rents, permits, maintenance, mortgages, etc) then they should accept that fact and move on with grace. Instead what we now have is a group of people who simply want us to let them stay and pay for it all. Too bad. It's time to stop the theatrical tears and move on. The fat lady has sung.

    • Reason
      May 10, 2012 - 07:29

      Most people would describe staying rent free in a building as being "propped up" or subsidized. Repairs and maintenance are needed if the building is to remain, and the only organization that is willing and able to undertake these repairs is the Town. "Propping up" one non-profit organization by this amount is completely unacceptable.

    • sueb
      May 10, 2012 - 15:06

      Like many non-profits, Tantramar Theatre receives a significant portion funding from the public purse through various federal and provincial grants. It would be a colossal mistake and a dangerous precedent for the town of Amherst pay virtually 75% of Tantramar's annual expenses by providing free housing, utilities, and building maintenance while ignoring all the other worthy community groups.

  • Cumberlander
    May 03, 2012 - 13:50

    A Centre for the Performing Arts outweights a simple administrative function like a town hall. The current Town Hall is functional, modern looking, and is quite adequate for a Town on a limited budget.

    • Reason
      May 07, 2012 - 10:11

      Could one of the proponents of Tantramar Theatre staying where they are, tell me who is going to pay to keep them there? Obviously they can't afford to pay for the building.

  • Jack On The Rocks
    May 03, 2012 - 12:32

    I'm pretty sure this horse is dead..leave it alone..move on..get over it..

    • Nanceroo
      May 03, 2012 - 18:24

      I agree. they are going to do what they want and have planned despite what the public wants. Too bad, the theatre company can't move across the street to the empty restaurant...already has a kitchena bar already connected ,and a parking lot in the back....