Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount have a new name and a bold new direction.
The Chilliwack Paramount Film Society was incorporated on May 7 by a group of community members who believe the historic Paramount building should be saved from demolition, said spokesperson Laura Reid.
The move to incorporate was partly to cement their credibility, and to better reflect their desire to offer a “viable and sustainable historic cinema setting,” to screen films, said Reid.
A business plan was unveiled at a community meeting Monday night, which included the plan to transform the old Paramount building into a refurbished repertory-type theatre, offering 600 seats for patrons to screen vintage, independent, alternative or non-mainstream films.
“A chance to see vintage films is something that we feel is missing in Chilliwack,” said Reid.
The first-run film market is well-served in the area, but not so much the type of niche films they’re considering with the proposal.
“But we’re not trying to compete with existing venues in any way,” she said.
The group’s research shows that some film festivals fans, for example, will travel a fair bit for the experience, meaning the potential is there to attract crowds from across the Lower Mainland, and not just Chilliwack.
“They’re coming to Chilliwack for the film, but also for the cinematic experience of being in a fully restored theatre.”
Reid said they found about a dozen examples of noteworthy theatre restorations conducted across North America.
“Some were of a similar vintage to ours, and some were run by not-for-profit societies. It gave me goosebumps to see what they’ve done to restore these old theatres.”
Part of their mandate will be to function as a forum of discussion for others dedicated to restoring historically significant buildings and sites.
“We’ll keep in touch through the existing website and Facebook page, and it’s important that we keep people in the loop as this plan progresses.”
Asked about the financials, Reid said they have a break-even budget created, with an expectation of further community support for the restoration which is expected to cost from $250,000 to up to half a million.
“We are asking the community to help us attain our goals by contributing cash, donations in-kind and materials,” she said.
They’ve already been approached by a number of supportive local businesses offering services and materials in-kind for the renovations.
Local law firm Patten Thornton offered its services pro bono to help incorporate the film society.
Fundraising goals will also be met through the society’s Save A Seat campaign, launched on Monday night and so far drawing pledges of about $10,000.
A local church organization has indicated interest in using some of space in the building for Sunday church services.
The film society also plans to remove one of the two existing screens in the old theatre building. The second screen was added to the Paramount theatre in 1977.
“We’re reverting back to the original design, with the upper balcony overlooking the one screen.”
The old Paramount on Yale Road east has been boarded up since November 2010, when Landmark Cinemas gave the land and building to the City of Chilliwack. It has a leaking roof and other condition issues.
The Friends group was granted a 90-day extension until June 21 under a new request for proposals to come up with a plan that would save the iconic downtown theatre from demolition, which was offered at no charge by Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation.
Council warned when they were being asked to hold off on the demolition that there would be no city funds available to help with renovation and repair costs
For the time being, they’re still at friendsofthechilliwackparamount.com or on Facebook.