Stratford Council has given the go-ahead for a cinema to begin operating out of City Hall auditorium.
The proposal was first submitted to the finance and labour relations subcommittee in October of 2015. At that time Craig Thompson of Ballinran Entertainment- a local film production company- said his company would provide a retractable screen, projector, and a possible satellite dish. Certain electrical upgrades would be needed, but otherwise the cinema would operate independently as a for-profit venture, drawing people downtown to City Hall and the renovated Market Square.
What followed was a long period of consultation, in which city staff reviewed such policies as rental agreements and fees, staffing, seating, and the aforementioned electrical upgrades. At Monday’s meeting of Council, they brought three options to councillors- who were sitting as the planning and heritage committee- for consideration.
The first option would see the project proceed, with 100 per cent of the city’s costs being fully recovered. As such, the city will adjust its rental rates to $40 per hour, (currently, it costs only $17.50 to rent the auditorium over the weekend.)
Three new part-time custodians would also be hired specifically to work regular hours on the weekend. This would avoid the current need to pay existing staff time-and-a-half on Saturdays and double-time of Sundays. According to the city’s manager of development services, Jeff Leunissen, base pay for city custodians is $24/hour, and if the new hires are kept under 17 hours a week, they would not be provided with benefits.
The electrical upgrades would be paid for by the city at a cost of $7,900. As well, an external poster display case- the size of an average movie poster- will be installed next to the south entrance of City Hall, the cost of which will be paid for by the cinema operator.
Numerous changes will also be made to the rental agreement policy. The second, third, and fourth Monday of every month will be kept clear in case Council needs the auditorium for one of its meetings; elections and other important municipal events will take precedence in bookings provided the city gives the renter 30 days notice; bookings will be first come, first serve, and renters cannot book the hall more than a year in advance. The cinema, meanwhile, will not be able to book more than 3 months in advance.
Option B was much the same as option A; but rather than full cost recovery, it called for a partially subsidized agreement where the city would swallow a portion of the costs. This would see the rental fee increased to $30 an hour rather than $40.
“The reason for option B is that Council is already subsidizing weekend use,” said Leunissen, citing the low cost of $17.50/hour, which doesn’t cover the cost of maintenance. He noted there must be a reason why council adopted this policy at some point, and that it was up to the current council to decide to continue in this vein.
Option C was to refuse the cinema project, but still change the weekend rental fees to cover the staffing costs.
Councillor Kathy Vassilakos said she would prefer if not-for-profit organizations were given some kind of discount. Director of community services, David St. Louis, noted that- although rental agreements differ from venue to venue- not-for-profits typically see a 20 per cent discount when renting public venues.
Both Mayor Dan Mathieson and Coun. Tom Clifford took issue with the city paying for the electrical upgrades. Coun. Martin Ritsma noted that the upgrades were permanent, and anyone utilizing the auditorium would benefit from them; but Clifford argued that were it not for Ballinran’s request, the upgrades would not be happening.
Thompson, in regards to the city’s 30-day cancellation policy, said he hoped staff might submit to him a list of potential reasons for possible cancellations. CAO Rob Horne said that such an undertaking may require more staff time, so a deferral may be in order; but Thompson said he was waiting on staff to pass the motion so he could proceed with seeking financing from Perth Community Futures, who are waiting on Council’s decision. Ballinran was hoping to be in operation by spring of 2017.
Coun. Frank Mark suggesting passing option A, and to iron out further issues as they come up, thereby avoiding delays.
Clifford entered a motion to defer the decision back to staff due to the cost of the electrical upgrades, but couldn’t find a seconder. He asked if the $7,900 was included in the 2017 budget. Treasurer Andre Morin said it was not included as a line item, and would instead have to come out of the City Hall maintenance budget.
Coun. Bonnie Henderson said other renters have asked when the city was planning to upgrade the building’s electrical system; the Ballinran request only prompted what needed to be done anyway.
Coun. Danielle Ingram asked how long it would take for the city to recover the cost of the electrical upgrades, to which Morin replied that the cost recovery plan only covered day-to-day operating costs.
Mathieson noted how, when the Stratford Blues and Ribfest held a large concert at the Allman Arena and required extra hydro, they were told to foot the bill themselves.
Despite this, council eventually decided to pass option A.