Wednesday, July 17, 2024

‘Not being used to full potential’: Town’s 10-year agreement with Smiths Falls Station Theatre on hold

Station Theatre in Smiths Falls is run by the Smiths Falls Community Theatre Foundation and they’re looking to enter into another 10-year lease agreement with the town. But first, council wants to hear from the group before committing to the next lease agreement. – Laurie Weir photo

Town council halted the signing of a new 10-year lease agreement with the Smiths Falls Station Theatre pending more information.

In her report to council’s committee of the whole on May 21, the director of community services, Stephanie Clark, was looking for approval to sign on for another 10 years with the Smiths Falls Community Theatre Foundation.

The town owns the theatre but the community theatre foundation runs it. The town is responsible for purchasing and maintaining insurance coverage, repair/maintenance/replacement of building systems and the building structure (roof, HVAC), while the tenant is responsible for all utility costs.

The annual rent Clark said she’s looking at is $10,000, adjusted every two years for inflation. Clark noted in her report that the rental rates will be credited $2,000 annually until the theatre group completes the LED light project upgrades, to a maximum of two years.

It is anticipated in three to five years the roof will be in need of repair and the “cost is unknown, but will be budgeted for in the relevant capital budget,” she noted.

The cost to the town for insurance on the building is about $13,000 annually.

Coun. Steve Robinson said he supported the recommendation, but he said he’s “very disappointed that the Station Theatre is not being used to its full potential. I certainly expect that this situation will change over the course of this agreement to the benefit of both the theatre group as well as the community.”

Coun. Chris McGuire asked, “Why do we do it this way instead of running it like the arena where staff take care of the scheduling and different groups that are going to use it?”

Clark said, “Frankly, we are not interested from a municipality (standpoint) in engaging in a community theatre organization. This is a fairly standard municipal opportunity where we have a group of volunteers – a non-profit situation where a group wants to come in and run a community. It would be, I think, cost-prohibitive if the municipality was going to do it. It’s extraordinarily expensive if you’re paying for the time to run a theatre.”

McGuire would like to put out a request for proposals to see what they get in terms of groups or individuals wanting to run the theatre, “versus sole sourcing it like this.”

McGuire asked how the 10-year agreement would solve some of the problems they’ve been having — like conflicts from user groups for scheduling, he suggested.

“This is about a tenant-lease holder agreement,” Clark said. “This is specific for the use of the facility. How they run their organization is up to them. This is about managing the relationship from the town with the facility only.”

“If we want to have some engagement with them and try to have some influence, we can certainly have those conversations,” Clark said.

McGuire said it didn’t address the scheduling concerns so he wasn’t about to support the recommendation.

Coun. Peter McKenna said he understood the concerns but felt it was outside the scope of what “we’re trying to do here,” when it came to the lease agreement approval.

“I’m also really pleased with the volunteers that are very vibrant – it just enhances our whole community,” McKenna said. “It’s wonderful, the variety of activities that happen, and the number of shows. It could always be better, of course, but it is a volunteer-driven organization and I’m very pleased with the group.”

McKenna thanked the group for their “countless hours” they put into the theatre.

Coun. Dawn Quinn said she also had some concerns.

“I think it’s a wonderful group and they’re doing wonderful promotions there, but I do believe that the facility itself could be utilized more than it is,” she said. “It’s just not generating enough money for the town.”

Quinn said they need to look at what they could do to utilize the building to generate more income. “Maybe we need a councillor sitting on their board so we can hear what they have to say.”

She’d also like to see a shorter lease to see what they can do to get the facility used more, then they could look at a longer agreement.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said he’d like to see a more in-depth look at the facility’s expenses.

Outside of any capital repairs that would be required, Clark said it costs about $35,000 to run the facility annually.

“So, our net costs after recovering the $10,000 and with the theatre group taking over utilities (about $13,000), it’s fairly modest,” Pankow said. “It’s the potential capital costs which will be a challenge at some point.”

Pankow suggested the theatre group returns to council to talk about their plans for the future, and “let us know what’s going on there every year … we want to make sure its use is optimized for the community and try to accommodate all potential users, all various forms of entertainment.”

The mayor asked the theatre group to come forward with a “snap shot of their operations,” over the next couple weeks.

Coun. Jennifer Miller said she supported the recommendation, but would prefer a five-year lease. She said she appreciated all the good work the volunteers did with the theatre, and noted that the town is lucky to have such a great facility to showcase the arts.

Coun. Jay Brennan, who chaired the meeting, said it is with the volunteers’ blood, sweat and tears that they have this theatre.

“It was their work that did it and made it what it is today,” Brennan said. “However, we have another lease before us that is remarkably similar to a lease that was written 10 years ago and the theatre is so well used and loved for all different things.”

Brennan said he’d love to see the theatre used almost every night, “and all through the summer. I have looked at the calendar for the summer and it’s not full … I just want to make sure that jewel is being fully utilized.”

McKenna cautioned that the market value of the theatre goes far beyond the numbers of a ledger, as he noted the tourism value for the money.

Council agreed to shelve the lease agreement until the next committee of the whole so they can look at the financials, as well as hear from the theatre group before making their decision on a new contract.

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