Not the last picture show

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Regina Public Library Film Theatre, Dunlop Art Gallery confirmed as part of Cultural Centre redevelopment project

John Cameron
Editor-in-Chief

When asked whether the Regina Public Library (RPL) would find space for the Dunlop Art Gallery and the RPL Film Theatre in the planned Cultural Centre that will be built on the site of the current RPL central branch, RPL board chair Darlene Hinks-Joehnck responded almost instantly.

“Oh, absolutely. The Dunlop, the film theatre, all aspects of the main library will remain intact,” she said. “When I talk about the private sector additions, those will complement the Cultural Centre.”

While the proposal before Regina’s city council on June 13 had specified the inclusion of retail spaces, a hotel, and at least one restaurant in the new multi-use space, there had been no mention of the gallery and theatre, leading to fears that the two facilities wouldn’t survive the transition.

“At this point, we just need a commitment to improved citizen engagement to existing institutions like the RPL Film Theatre and Dunlop Art Gallery,” wrote the prairie dog’s Stephen Whitworth on the newspaper’s blog. “A ‘trust us’ is not good enough.”

With the on-the-record statement from Joehnck that the artistic venues will remain part of the library, however, those fears can be put to rest.

Christine Ramsey, the head of the University of Regina’s media production and studies department, said that the preservation of the film theatre is crucial for the city.

“This is where we get to see world cinema,” she said. “New and intelligent films from around the world … It’s downtown and you can go there for a double bill four nights a week. And, I mean, our program would really suffer if we weren’t able to offer our students the ability to see what’s new in film.”

Ramsey added that the university often works with the RPL to bring in independent Canadian filmmakers, who frequently get short shrift at multiplexes like the Galaxy, to screen their works and speak with local audiences.

The library’s delegation to Regina’s city council, who submitted the request for council’s approval to move forward with the project in principle, stressed repeatedly that they were asking for permission to seek a federal P3 Grant. P3 funding is administered through Infrastructure Canada as part of the Building Canada Plan.

At this stage, the project can begin to move forward to more concrete proposals. And while that’s something for the library to look forward to, it’s also good news for the other “anchor tenant” of the new facility: the Globe Theatre.

The Globe’s ongoing legal battle with its landlord, as well as flagging ticket sales, has left the theatre on more precarious footing than in previous years, and vice-chair of the Globe’s board, Rod Podbielski, stressed that the Globe hoped the process could now start to gather momentum.

“I think you have to concede that building a building is a long process,” Podbielski said. “It’s not going to change the short-term issues we may have. We want to get moving as quickly as we can. We know that the alternative is we need new space and therefore we’re quite committed to going in that direction.”

Wherever the development goes from here, Ramsey is certain that – as long as they keep the development of a vibrant downtown in mind – the council is on the right track with the new facility.

“Let’s get that downtown plan going,” she said. “And let’s get a vibrant centre in Regina.”

This land ain’t your land

Also present at the June 13 council meeting was a delegation from the Regina Masonic Temple. Gerry Hodges, president of the Masonic Temple Company, and Roger Petry, a professor from Luther College and representative of Regina’s St. Andrew’s Lodge, expressed to the council their fear that, in building the new Cultural Centre, the city has its sights set on the Masons’ land.

Upon seeing a preliminary architectural design published in the Leader-Post in April, the Masons noticed that their 86-year-old Lorne Street building was missing, a large wing of the proposed new glass-and-steel structure in its place.

Hodges and Petry told the council that, in their opinion, language respecting the property rights of the library’s neighbours should be included in any motion up for council’s approval. Since that wasn’t the case for the motion being presented on June 13, they asked the council to reject it.

“It is important to note that the concept of the library redeveloping itself on its own properties to include a Cultural Centre is not being objected to,” Petry told the council during the presentation. “Rather, it is the redevelopment of the project beyond the footprint of the existing library in a way that would eliminate or substantially change the presence of the Masonic Temple and its land in the downtown of Regina without its consent that is being challenged.”

The council appeared, however, severely rankled at the suggestion that any land would be expropriated.

“I don’t see the term ‘expropriation’ anywhere in the report,” said Mayor Pat Fiacco.

For their part, the delegation from the Library – which included Hinks-Joehnck, library director Jed Barber, and Harvard Development vice president of development Blair Forster – told the council that they had no interest in bullying the Masons out of their long-time home.

“Certainly, if the Masons are not interested in selling their property, we can reconfigure the whole concept,” Hinks-Joehnck said, also stressing that the leaked image was an early proposal and far from the final product.

During discussion, as well, the councilors seemed eager to refute the notion that there was any interest in trying to build on the Masons’ land without their consent.

“I think it’s a great leap of logic to find the word ‘expropriation’ in the report,” said councilor Michael Fougere, who added that not only would council not consider expropriation to begin with but that “the library doesn’t have the authority to do it anyway.”

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