City may opt to restore Paramount Theatre building itself

Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount are elated — even though their plan for a repertory theatre downtown looks like it might get rejected.

Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount Theatre were elated Friday afternoon — even though their business plan for a repertory theatre in downtown Chilliwack looks like it might get rejected.

City council may vote Tuesday to reject the group’s plan, and see what it would cost to remediate and restore the old Paramount Theatre building for long-term use by the community as a “civic facility,” according to the agenda for the Aug. 21 meeting.

“This is better. We’re very excited,” said Friends of the Paramount spokesperson Laura Reid. “We’re not talking about demolition at least. We’re talking about the reality that the building has years of life left in it.”

This new development, in the form of a staff recommendation, is a 180-degree turn from the direction taken this winter. Council was then exploring the possibility of demolishing the building, in tandem with a CEPCO plan to demolish the one it owns next door. The rationale for looking at demolition was the cost-prohibitive price-tag for repairs of the building built in 1949, estimated then to be between $250,000 and $300,000.

Then Paramount group was given a chance to devise an alternative plan in June, which it did, coming up with a not-for-profit model of running a non-mainstream film society in the old building.

Now the staff recommendation is that the city itself take over the mandate to develop a business plan for the “remediation, restoration and operation” of the facility.

“This is even better than we could have imagined,” said Reid.

Part of the society’s mandate involves helping to save “historically significant” buildings from the wrecking ball, like the Paramount.

“It was like Christmas in August,” said Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount member Krista Butt. “I was thrilled to read that in the city council meeting agenda.”

The prospect of the city stepping up to play a coordinating role with its experience already running arts facilities, is a reassuring one, she said.