Burr Theatre society was a money-maker for New Westminster
Re: City rejects compensation bid (NewsLeader, Jan. 25)
As the person in the direct line of fire until nine months prior to when the City of New Westminster regained possession of the Columbia (ex-Burr) Theatre in 2006 by locking out the The Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society and changing the locks, I take issue with the constant references to the Burr having been a "money pit" for the taxpayers of New Westminster.
City Coun. Chuck Puchmayr's recent performance has prompted me to write in response to his gross misrepresentation of the financial facts.
When arguing how much the Burr had cost the taxpayers of New Westminster, Mr. Puchmayr neglected to mention the following:
For the first three years of occupancy, the society paid the city $20,000 per year in taxes in addition to the peppercorn rent of $10, for a total of $60,030.
What is also never mentioned is that for a long period the city refused any assistance for repairs or upkeep to the envelope of their 75-year-old building that had been badly neglected by the previous owners and was in dire need of assistance. For example, we frequently had to climb a dangerous, wooden ladder into the roof space to spread tarpaulins and place buckets to prevent the rain that was coming through the roof from collecting and causing the ceiling below to fall onto patrons' heads.
It took more than five years for the city to do anything about that. Meantime, the Burr Society fundraised and did all it could to upgrade and maintain the interior of the building, creating a fully functional live theatre while dealing with leaky gas ranges, dirt and mass storage of items belonging to the previous tenants. Tenants who, incidentally, were part of the original deal but who did a "moonlight flit" and left the society without the $48,000/year rent to which they had agreed, and which was part of the original deal the Burr Society made with the city. So there's $144,000 loss of income over three years for the Burr Society through no fault of their own.
Has the city made any attempt to recover this money?
Of the oft-quoted $660,000 dollars "given" to the society, over $325,000 were not given but were used to pay for those highly necessary repairs to the roof and HVAC system of the building—which the city owned. Any landlord is required to keep their building habitable, and it should be noted that the repairs were only carried out in 2005—five years after the society moved in and it took some effort to persuade the city to do them.
And the side of the equation never quoted by city council or staff is the $1.2 million—yes, million—that the operations of the Burr Society within the building brought into the local economy. And that doesn't take into account the amount of money spent elsewhere in restaurants, pubs, gas stations, parking etc. Or the employment given to a full and part time staff of six, not to mention the employment given to theatre artists or the volunteer opportunities and social aspects of the hugely popular Burr.
Nor does it address the pride the people of New Westminster had in such a thriving, popular theatre company and its education programme. Several Burr Theatre School alumni have gone on to careers in theatre and the good work that was done there can be attested to in the letters of recommendation I still have.
Also, 75 per cent of patrons of the Burr came from outside the City of New Westminster—think of all the benefits having so many theatregoers—over 100,000 in four years—came into your community to spend money instead of going to Vancouver. Has council and staff considered any of this?
So—councillors and staff—do your homework and get out the calculator. The figures I quote are readily available in the records and most are your figures in any case. When you add up the financial information available, you will see that you actually gave less than $350,000 in grant monies in order to generate $1.2 million. The bottom line is that your city's net gain was close to a million dollars.
And now—you're bickering over $14,000?
Shame. Shame on you all.
Founding Artistic Director
The Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society