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The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts opened 18 years ago, angling to be a top venue in Western Canada. (Ben Nelms/The Globe & Mail)
The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts opened 18 years ago, angling to be a top venue in Western Canada. (Ben Nelms/The Globe & Mail)

CULTURE

Theatre nearing rebirth as evangelical church Add to ...

An evangelical church has announced it is negotiating to buy the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts, which could drop the curtain on one of the city’s most glamorous and troubled arts venues.

The theatre opened 18 years ago amid great fanfare with the staging of Show Boat, but its next opening act may be a running series of sermons called “You Asked, Jesus Answers.”

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The pending sale to Westside Church is outlined on the church’s website and lead pastor Norm Funk has tweeted about it.

“I have had 7 meetings this week alone re: the Centre, with all of them grace filled and Jesus centred,” he said in a recent message.

Church officials refused comment on Thursday, but a post by Mr. Funk says an agreement was signed on March 21.

“With a Purchase Sales Agreement in hand we now move immediately into a 75 day due diligence period which allows us to get into the facility and … evaluate whether or not finalizing the purchase of the building is feasible, prudent and God-directed,” he wrote.

“To be clear, Westside has NOT purchased the facility but is moving into a phase akin to looking at a car, looking at the sticker price and then finally test-driving that car – we are at the test driving stage,” he stated.

Mr. Funk, whose rapidly growing church aims to attract a young, hip congregation, said a move will be made from existing office space on Granville Island “as soon as possible” if the deal is closed.

But he also said the financing is not yet complete.

“As of today we have already had donated by three anonymous donors over 1/3 towards the price of the Centre. It is wondrous but not enough, and part of my role in conjunction with others, by God’s grace, is to raise more,” Mr. Funk wrote.

Westside Church was founded eight years ago and holds Sunday services at the 450-seat Granville Island Stage, near the public market. Its pastors wear hoodies and Hawaiian shorts while doing highly public baptizing ceremonies at Kits Beach, and the church boasts it serves great coffee, has free WiFi and a live rock band.

Mr. Funk generated some controversy last year when he posted a sermon on the church website in which he described homosexuality as a sin.

A move to the Centre would be a big step up for the Westside Church.

The Centre, which boasts 1,800 lush purple velvet seats, was built for $24-million by Garth Drabinsky, who had dreams of making it the greatest performing arts venue in Western Canada.

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the building opened in 1995 with a splashy production of Show Boat, but closed three years later as Mr. Drabinsky’s Live Entertainment of Canada Inc. spiralled into debt.

The current owners, four brothers from Denver, Col. – Dennis, Ronald, Christopher and Jeremy Law – bought the shuttered building in 2001 for $7.7-million.

At the time, Dennis Law described it as “one of the greatest Broadway-type venues in North America” and expressed hopes of reviving Vancouver’s arts scene.

The Law brothers opened with Of Heaven and Earth, a lavish production from China directed by Tim Yip, who won an Oscar for his work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Rob Gloor, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, said it will be a loss if The Centre is no longer available for big touring shows. But he said the space played a small role in the local arts scene and never flourished.

The Centre is in the heart of the city’s entertainment district, directly across the street from the Vancouver Public Library, and just a few blocks from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

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