Seeking Strand of hope for downtown theatre

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 21, 2015

The Strand Theatre in Brandon Manitoba. (Brandon Sun file)

It would appear that without a fourth-quarter Hail Mary pass, the curtain has closed on the Strand Theatre saga.

As was shared in the Brandon Sun this past week, the one-time megaproject has fizzled out, leading to tough times ahead for the aging structure, as well as some undoubtedly hurt feelings and thoughts of what could have been.

So now the road becomes even more hazardous, while nestled in the rear-view mirror lies a somewhat sordid past littered with politics, failed fundraising campaigns, plenty of blood, sweat and tears for the longtime proponents of the revitalization, and now — save for one hopeful and final act of generosity from Landmark Cinemas to liquidate its asset — it looks like without a new champion, the downtown theatre has all but died.

I shared in a column late last year about the remaining optimism this city had in the project all but drying up. Gone was the revitalized energy that existed the day the marquee was turned back on, the champagne reception across the street and the gathered crowd of onlookers.

For a brief but fleeting moment, we as a community had hope for what could be in store. The proponents of the project had done it right. They had surrounded themselves with a group of some of Brandon’s most influential people — and through their guidance, the project itself was to navigate in a new and exciting direction.

That hope, however, was soon dashed as the federal funding that had long been championed as the cornerstone of the project had privately been denied months earlier, and it appeared the Strand would again be at square one.

There had been small instances where gifts in kind had been provided, and this is by no means to detract from the work that was done. But without the real capital that government or private dollars would provide, the project seemed doomed from the beginning.

So if this is the end, where do we as a community go now?

First and foremost, there needs to be confirmation that the membership of the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society (the original proponents of the project) are indeed out. If they are, it is unfortunate, as plenty of their sweat equity has gone into making this project happen. They should be recognized for their efforts — but at the end of the day, their stepping aside may be the single greatest gift they could provide the community.

Taking the Strand project in a new direction makes sense, and if a buyer is willing to come forward and do the necessary work to make the building viable, it is time for the owners to sell the Strand.

There are precedents wherein these types of projects have advanced in this fashion.

The Scott Block Theatre in Red Deer, Alta., is one of the best examples of a project that stumbled for close to a decade under a community model before one of their biggest proponents stepped aside from the collective to purchase the structure and move the project forward.

In a private model, the building was a perfect example of what needed to take place and the resulting outcome is something the Strand could aspire to. The Red Deer theatre now operates as a mixed-use theatre and performing arts facility, and by all indications has been well received.

As for those who question whether private entities could ever function with the mindset of being community-based, they need look no further than our own Brandon Wheat Kings. The team is a private enterprise but identifies easily as belonging to the community, with the average visitor to a Wheat Kings game having little worry of the ownership model but more so the product on the ice.

In a hypothetical sale scenario, whoever was to assume ownership of the theatre would really be no different. A businessperson is not likely to turn away anyone willing to pay to keep the lights on. The idea of community would be deeply ingrained in any business model for a theatre moving forward and it could flourish as a private business.

In that 2014 column, I believed it was time for the current proponents to embrace the opportunity to step aside and welcome a new direction. This week’s lack of updates further solidifies that feeling.

It is time for the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society to tag in someone new who can move this important community project forward.

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Shaun Cameron is a content contributor. A veteran of print, video and television, Shaun is a professional post-secondary employee by day, a filmmaker by night. Check out more of Shaun's work in the menu bar above.

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Shaun Cameron has worked in media for close to two decades. His work has been featured in print, internet, video, radio and television publications. A proud father of two, Shaun lives in Brandon, Manitoba with his wife Karol.

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