Historic Grand Theatre could be vacated after landlord refuses to lower rent

‘Unless the landlord is able to give us some sort of reduction in rent, there’s no way the numbers can work’

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One of Calgary’s oldest theatres could be vacated by the end of the year after an agreement on a temporary rent reduction fell through in recent weeks.

The Calgary Grand Theatre Society says it’s “shocked and dismayed” at the landlord’s decision, saying its proposal for the rent reduction was rejected in mid-January after negotiations had appeared to be running smoothly.

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“I can’t impart how upsetting this is for us,” said Erynn Lyster, executive director of the society.

The Grand, one of Calgary’s oldest arts buildings, is owned by Allied Properties Real Estate Investment Trust, which bought it from the society in 2021.

Until Allied Properties rejected the proposal, Arts Commons was intending to take over The Grand Theatre Society’s operations, Lyster said. The deal would have resulted in the society leaving Arts Commons to steward the tenancy at The Grand.

But Arts Commons is unable to afford The Grand’s current rent rate, Lyster said.

“Once the landlord left the table, the whole solution dissolved,” Lyster said. “Unless the landlord is able to give us some sort of reduction in rent, there’s no way the numbers can work for any arts organization.”

Lyster did not say how long the rent reduction was requested to last. The society currently pays more than $500,000 per year for the building, she said.

“I still do not know why the proposal was ultimately rejected,” Lyster said.

“We were at the point that we were planning to announce to the community that this was happening.”

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The Grand Theatre
The lobby of The Grand Theatre in downtown Calgary, pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Cecilia Williams, Allied Properties president and CEO, said the company is not prepared to comment publicly on the matter, but said it disagrees with much of the content in the news release sent out by the society on Wednesday.

In that statement, Arts Commons president and CEO Alex Sarian said Canada’s arts communities are facing a precarious future, made more uncertain by “unpredictable venue partners.”

“While our involvement wasn’t certain, we attempted to leverage our experience and expertise in managing, operating and maximizing arts and gathering spaces on behalf of Calgarians to support the leadership team at the society in their efforts to retain The Grand as a community arts space. To say we are disappointed in this outcome is an understatement,” Sarian wrote.

In a statement to Postmedia, Arts Commons said its ability to help the situation depends on the Grand Theatre Society and Allied Properties.

“How we are able to support the current situation remains in the hands of Allied Properties REIT and the Grand Theatre Society, who hold the legal agreement over this beloved space.”

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The Calgary Grand Theatre Society was the building’s owner from 2018 to 2020, selling to Allied Properties in 2020 to off-load the responsibility of owning the building, Lyster said.

“It was a financial drain and, with limited resources, it made sense to be able to get out of tidying the building and focus instead on arts and culture.”

The building, in Calgary’s historic Lougheed Block, was built in 1912 and has operated as a theatre since its inception.

The Grand Theatre
The front entrance to The Grand Theatre. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Lyster joined the society after the sale. It then shifted its focus to creating “a sustainable path forward,” Lyster said, working with consultants over the past two years to come up with a plan. She said Allied Properties was “on board . . . and part of discussions from the beginning,” and that the temporary rent relief would allow the model it had developed to prove itself.

The Grand Theatre Society’s annual operating costs are about $1.8 million, she added. The society is a registered charity.

“For me to remain accessible to the arts community that I’m trying to serve, we need assistance.”

The society doesn’t know when it would have to vacate The Grand. It’s “pursuing all avenues at this point,” Lyster said.

“We’ll continue to act in good faith with our landlords. We are diligently paying our rent,” she said.

“We’re not screeching up to needing to close the doors tomorrow . . . but we are at the 11th hour.”

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