Chilliwack city council made the right decision last week by delaying its vote on the demolition of the Paramount Theatre.
The 90-day reprieve is intended to give a new group time to come up with an alternative to tearing the building down.
And while few councillors seem convinced the group will succeed, they’ve at least given the community a chance to come up with something more creative than demolition.
The odds are stacked against the group. It will take more than sentimentality to save the Paramount – there is an abundance of that. It will take a clear business plan, backed by the necessary dollars to make it happen.
Those dollars will be hard to find – and they won’t be coming from the city. In agreeing to the reprieve, Mayor Sharon Gaetz repeated council’s view that there is no appetite to use tax dollars to renovate or repair the building – something the city estimates would cost $300,000 just to turn on the heat and stop the roof from leaking.
Nor do private investors seem eager to put their money on the line. An earlier request by the city for expressions of interest drew only two proposals and both were rejected by city hall.
Despite the challenges, council was right to provide more time. The demolition of a historic building of some architectural significance should not be done lightly. Once gone, only photographs remain. (Imagine Chilliwack if the old city hall – now the Chilliwack Museum – had been torn down.)
There is a strong desire to redevelop Chilliwack’s downtown. That should be applauded. But it should not come at the expense of the city’s historical identity, if it can at all be helped.
This council has made it clear that redevelopment should be led by the private sector. The city, through its yet-to-be implemented downtown revitalization plan, hopes to clear some of the hurdles and add some incentives to make that happen faster.
Those who hope to save the Paramount have three months to take advantage of this climate as they craft a plan that is as practical as it is imaginative.