Chilliwack’s historic Paramount Theatre building has won a reprieve.
Council voted Tuesday afternoon to give a hastily formed grass-roots group a bit more time to craft a proposal and business plan to save the building from the wrecking ball.
Some councillors said they weren’t holding out much hope but wanted to see what the group would come up with.
“I think this is a Hail Mary, frankly,” said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “We should have had this interest earlier in the process.”
She reminded them there was “no appetite” to put taxpayers’ dollars into it.
Coun. Stewart McLean said they needed some sort of “concrete plan” before them.
Coun. Ken Huttema said he was surprised by the emotion expressed to save the Paramount, when the same level did not come forward when they were demolishing the Empress Hotel.
“This has woken a lot of people up,” he said.
He said there were a lot of good ideas being floated.
“I just hope they have the deep pockets to go along with that,” he said.
Council’s decision to offer a reprieve came as it was about to vote on a staff recommendation to accept an offer from Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) to demolish the building on the city’s behalf.
“This group is very passionate,” noted Coun. Chuck Stam, and he was the one to move the motion to extend the demolition vote by 90 days.
In a Feb. 27 letter to the city, CEPCO said its demolition of the neighbouring “Ewert Building” would cause “irreparable harm” to the Paramount, and that CEPCO would therefore be willing to demolish the Paramount as well at no cost to the city.
That offer prompted an 11th-hour plea to save the building and especially the historically significant sign by the “Save the Chilliwack Paramount Theatre working group,” which was given 10 minutes to make its case before council Tuesday afternoon.
Mayor Gaetz acknowledged it was an unusual step to allow them to speak.
The group, which drew 29 people to a meeting at Decades the night before, were led by Chilliwack residents Sam Waddington and Jim Balakshin (pictured at right). They called on council to delay a demolition decision until more community consultation and a “more reasonable time frame” could be established, along with a viable plan.
The also raised questions about the alleged underground contamination and whether it had in fact spread to under the Paramount building.
Architect Andrew Ward offered his view on the “unique” cultural heritage and historical merit of the building and particularly the fluted panels of the faceted sign, which he characterized as having “a place in the hearts of the people.”
The detail of the sign “recalls the arrival of modernism,” he said, “tempered by final days of the Art Deco movement.”
When it came time for the vote, council referred the matter back to staff to come up with a new proposal process.
“You can all go home and breathe for another 90 days,” said the mayor to the group after councillors voted unanimously to extend the deadline. She warned them to get legal help if they intended on embarking on any large-scale fundraising.
“This is a confirmation that more consultation was needed,” said Balakshin after the meeting.
The best outcome after the three-month reprieve would be “a viable business plan,” he said.
A worse case scenario might be finding a way to save the sign.
“They’re a little behind, but perhaps these guys have the silver bullet. We’ll have to see,” added Mayor Gaetz.