There’s no timeline in place yet for the demolition of the old Paramount Theatre building in downtown Chilliwack.
In the aftermath of the impassioned campaign to save the building by the Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount last week, messages are still trickling into city hall about it.
“It’s been quite surprising,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
“I have heard from those who were disappointed by the decision, but I’m also getting significantly more emails from people saying that if we’re going to revitalize the downtown once and for all, we should go for it.”
Members of the Paramount group are still steaming.
“The consensus is that we feel an injustice has been done and we are all angry,” group member Kim Mallory told The Progress.
They want folks to know that The Discovery Channel network had the restoration project at the top of its list for helping to renovate the Paramount lobby for a reality TV show about bringing historical buildings back to life.
“They (council) didn’t give us a chance to respond. They just dropped a bomb and walked away,” she said. “No community consult, nothing. It’s a travesty.”
Many of those who contacted city hall about the Paramount decision wanted to know if the historic sign could be saved at least.
“I have asked staff to make sure we have an engineer look at the sign to determine if it can be salvaged,” Gaetz said. “People love that sign. It’s a familiar downtown landmark for all of us.”
The building was described on the Heritage Canada Foundation website as having its design roots in the international style. The sign has art deco influences and a fluted façade.
But like the building, the sign has deteriorated.
“There used to be lights all around it. We’re hoping it doesn’t disintegrate completely if they try to take it down,” said Gaetz.
“If it’s not salvageable, then maybe there is some part of it that can be reclaimed. So when the new development goes in it could be stipulated that the sign, or pieces of it, will be incorporated into the new building that still bears the Paramount name.
“It’s something I would like to see preserved.”
There’s a fondness for the old Paramount in the hearts of locals.
“It’s nostalgia, and it’s beautiful.”
The Paramount building made the Top Ten Endangered Places list for 2012 with the Heritage Canada Foundation.
A specialized team is set to check the building either Friday or sometime later to ensure it’s free of hazardous materials like asbestos before it is demolished.
The demolition has not been scheduled yet.
“I imagine it will be soon. We’ve been at it, discussing the Paramount, I mean, since October 2010,” said Gaetz.
“As sad as it is, a date will have to be chosen. There’s no point in having a boarded up building. With these kinds of decisions, you want to make the right and wise decision. We weighed what everyone had to say first.”
The mayor emphasized the decision fits in perfectly with the long-term vision of the Downtown Land Use Implementation Plan,
“I want people to know there is a vision and a plan in place.”
Having those empty storefronts downtown, described as missing teeth by some is a “necessary” part of revitalization, said Gaetz.
“Every community goes through that and Chilliwack is no exception. But we don’t own them all, the land has to be assembled by private owners. It’s going to be beautiful when it’s finished, with greening, and trees and public space, all the lovely things that make it a neighbourhood.”
Some questioned whether the building was actually close to being condemned, as the mayor had stated in chambers on the day of the demolition decision.
“I was talking about the additional damage that was done, aside from a leaking roof. Vandals stripped the copper wire, and the ventilation system was compromised. We’re not in a position to keep it up and running.”
Every week there are people, sometimes photographers, who want a last look inside the old theatre.
“We’ve had to deny those requests because of the state of the building.”
Since the city took possession about 20 months ago, it has cost the taxpayers, $52,000 in operating costs, according to a staff estimate.