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Artist's rendering of the proposed signage York Theatre in Vancouver.
Artist's rendering of the proposed signage York Theatre in Vancouver.

Donation of $2-million to York Theatre rests on fate of exterior sign Add to ...

What’s in a name? Some concern, it seems, when it comes to naming a newly restored East Vancouver theatre – in a neighbourhood that does not always smell so sweet.

The York Theatre opened in December after an extensive, nearly $14-million renovation. Owned by the city and leased to The Cultch, which operates it, the theatre is poised to accept a $2-million donation from West Coast Reduction Ltd. In return, the stage would be named for the local company – and exterior signage would be added to the building to recognize the contribution.

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The money would provide “much needed financial stability during a time of immense change and growth for the organization,” writes Cultch executive director Heather Redfern in an e-mail to theatre patrons, in which she asks for support on the matter, explaining that the gift represents the single largest corporate donation in The Cultch’s history and is “a critical piece to the York Theatre’s viability.”

The e-mail went out on Wednesday, in advance of a telephone poll to be conducted beginning Thursday. City staff had recommended approval of the proposal – which requires amendments to the sign bylaw – but at a meeting last month, city council asked for further public consultation and information on best practices in other cities.

Over the next few days, some 500 households are to be contacted by phone about the matter, with at least 300 in the Grandview-Woodlands neighbourhood, according to the city. A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21. Council will later vote on the issue.

The plan is for the York to install a sign on the third-floor exterior that would see “West Coast Reduction Stage” written underneath “York Theatre” in letters one-fifth the size. In addition, lit signs on the canopy above the main entrance would acknowledge the corporation. The signs, according to The Cultch, would be low-tech and unobtrusive, getting progressively dimmer as it gets darker, with the lighting turned off at 11 p.m.

But while theatres or theatre stages named for corporations are a fact of life (the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, the Scotiabank Dance Centre, the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts), the West Coast Reduction Stage proposal has been a tough one for a few locals to swallow. The company operates a meat rendering plant at the north end of Commercial Drive, a few blocks from the theatre; people who live in the neighbourhood have been known to complain about odours, particularly in warm weather.

West Coast Reduction marks 50 years in business this year, and has supported other charitable initiatives in the neighbourhood – and beyond. Even without the potential $2-million donation, it is The Cultch’s biggest donor and its title sponsor. “We think [The Cultch] is a great organization,” says WCRL president and CEO Barry Glotman. “And this opportunity came up and … it’s a unique opportunity just up the road from us.”

A public open house was held in June and a significant majority of respondents – 74 per cent – supported the sponsorship, while 13 per cent expressed concerns about this particular sponsor (others were concerned about corporate sponsorship being recognized on the exterior of the building in general, or the impact of the sign illumination).

Ms. Redfern says the feedback she’s received has been overwhelmingly supportive, but she wanted to make sure people had the information they need in advance of the telephone survey. Should the city turn down the exterior sign, the theatre would not receive the $2-million – money Ms. Redfern says is essential for operations, such as maintenance and reserves. “It’s very practical money,” she says. “It’s for the sustainability of The Cultch and the York.”

 

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