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Paramount supporters won't exit stage left

Even though city council decided to demolish the old Paramount building, there are still supporters in Chilliwack fighting for a reprieve. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
Even though city council decided to demolish the old Paramount building, there are still supporters in Chilliwack fighting for a reprieve.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

The decision to demolish the old Paramount Theatre building still isn't sitting well with one of the members of the Chilliwack Paramount Film Society.

"Having accurate information available is really important and I think there's been some misinformation circulated," said Alvin Bartel, who is also a local architect.

He was on vacation when the vote went down at Chilliwack city hall, and was caught completely by surprise by the council vote in favour of the wrecking ball.

Coun. Jason Lum was the lone councillor to vote against demolition.

The council decision has been made, why speak up now?

"I think council should change their minds," Bartel told The Progress. "The cost of tearing this building down is about the same as the complete restoration."

He said it would have been inappropriate previously to talk about the group's RFP proposal to run a not-for-profit repertory theatre on the site, especially while they were in discussions with the city about it.

Bartel produced a document he called "Myths of Paramount Proportion" which will be online shortly, along with a copy of the original proposal submitted by the Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount, which was incorporated as the Chilliwack Paramount Film Society.

"Unfortunately a number of myths have been propagated surrounding the Paramount that serve to muddy the waters and leave the citizens of Chilliwack with a skewed perspective of what is required to revitalize the downtown," Bartel writes.

City officials have stated that the decision to demolish dovetails with the elaborately developed Downtown Implementation Plan, which emerged after several years of research and consultation, that included a public consultation process.

But Bartel posited that there is no real plan for the downtown in place.

"There is no plan other than to collect properties and ready them for demolition and development," he said. "You have to do that very carefully.

"We have a finite amount of economic energy in our city and it has been distributed far and wide."

Everyone wants to save the downtown, he said.

"We're all on the same page there. It's just about how we go about doing that."

He lists four so-called myths in circulation, with the first being the artificial division between the City of Chilliwack and Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, (CEPCO). CEPCO is a separately incorporated entity with the city as its lone shareholder.

But it's the same pot of money he argues.

"If the City insists on making a distinction between itself and CEPCO for the sake of this argument then so be it. Sell the building to CEPCO then for $1 along with the recommendation that City staff came up with a plan to restore the building and run it as civic facility.

"For the same taxpayer dollars spent (and yes they are taxpayer dollars ) the public can have a choice:  walk to a newly minted theatre in the downtown for an evening out or walk by an empty gravel lot for the next 20 years."

The group is trying to rally support for a last minute reprieve for the building.

"I think the proposal we made to run a theatre with a not-for-profit model needs some public scrutiny. Once they understand the rationale they might see that it makes sense not to demolish.

"This is a national issue, with many towns like ours facing the same thing."

The other three myths included his assessment of the actual physical state of the building, competition with other cultural institutions and businesses, and the theory he described as 'Demolish it and they will come.'

"It's easy to say this area is reserved for mixed use development. Everyone does that. But how do you get from here to there?"

Find out more at the Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount Facebook group, or read the entire Bartel letter on the website at http://www.friendsofthechilliwackparamount.com/

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno

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