The Poor Alex Theatre, a Toronto fixture for more than 40 years, may soon be taken over by the Toronto Fringe Festival.
The 143-seat Brunswick Avenue venue, launched in 1963 by retailer and theatre-owner Honest Ed Mirvish, was sold two weeks ago for $1.2-million to a group led by Graziano Marchese, owner of Dooney's, the popular nearby coffee house and restaurant in the city's Annex neighbourhood.
Marchese said he learned the property was for sale in the spring and, not wanting to see the site bought for another condo development in the neighbourhood, negotiated its purchase with the help of four family members.
He's now in lease discussions with the Fringe organization, which has been renting the venue as part of its annual festival, but maintains its head offices on Bloor Street.
If all goes well, says executive director Chuck McEwan, the Fringe will take over management of the Poor Alex later this fall. "Having our own theatre would give us more flexibility on future programming and allow us to grow," he said.
According to Marchese, the Poor Alex has recently been in use only 40 per cent of the time. With programming organized by the Fringe he says, that figure should rise to 80 per cent.
Marchese says he plans to turn the building's second floor into a jazz club and bistro and has already retained a designer and architect.
The third floor will remain a series of artists' studios, "for the time being," he says.
Marchese says the Annex has lately been attracting a younger demographic to its many bars and restaurants. His goal in buying the almost 12,000-square-foot building and turning it over to the Fringe is to bring a somewhat older crowd back to the area.
"Hopefully it will go some way to reviving the neighbourhood."
He says he will consult the community about finding a new name for the venue, since the previous owners opted to retain rights to The Poor Alex. He says he will spend some additional funds renovating the building's exterior.
Until it was converted into a small theatre in 1963 by Ed Mirvish, the building had been part of a plastics factory that he owned.
It was named the Poor Alex because it was a miniature version of Mirvish's Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street and originally furnished with Edwardian leftovers from that building -- pipe fittings, plumbing fixtures, chairs, stage curtains, even the canopy. At the time, amateur and professional groups could rent it for $18 a night.
McEwan said it would now probably rent for between $2,000-$2,500 a night, a fee needed just to break even.