A Vancouver arts hub operating out of the former Playhouse Theatre Company production facility is in danger of shutting down – which could have a serious impact on the local arts community.
The building, operated by Renegade Productions, provides rehearsal and production space for musicians, theatre companies and visual artists, and also manages the enormous prop collection that once belonged to the Playhouse.
But the City of Vancouver says there are serious safety concerns related to the property. Late Wednesday, Renegade was informed that it would have to leave its building on East 2nd Avenue next Tuesday.
"That's one business day notice," points out Renegade's president, Jim Buckshon, who is also director of the Renegade Arts Society. Heading into a long weekend, he was scrambling.
"What do I do with 4,000 square feet of props? Where do you move them in a day?"
The city says it is open to a meeting with Renegade on Tuesday, but the future of the facility remains threatened.
Renegade moved in to the space in July, 2011, sharing it initially with the Playhouse, which was having severe financial problems. Mr. Buckshon was presented with a document stating, among other things, that the covenants, agreements and provisos set forth in the head lease that are to be kept, observed or performed by the sub-landlord have been duly kept observed and performed by the sub-landlord up to the date of the sub-lease.
"That to me is your permits," says Mr. Buckshon.
After the Playhouse went dark, Renegade took over the rest of the building, purchased the props and kept the studios going.
"The place has been vibrant and excellent," Mr. Buckshon says. "It's brimming with activity."
But in February, Mr. Buckshon and his landlord, the Beedie Group, received a letter from the city, advising them that the building was in violation of several bylaws. The notice indicated that interior alterations had been made without the appropriate permits. The letter, dated Feb. 17, also stated that the facility was still a storage warehouse according to city records. It informed Renegade of an inspection to take place on March 25.
"We got blindsided," says Mr. Buckshon. He says he had new floor plans drawn up and brought them to the city on March 17, the deadline outlined by the city. He indicated that his group would be willing to comply with any directives. After the inspection last week, Mr. Buckshon received a call from a city enforcement officer on Wednesday afternoon.
"We weren't supplied a deficiency report nor were [we] allowed to make the necessary changes required for safety improvements, which we and the landlord had eagerly agreed to do."
The facility is slated for eventual development. According to Mr. Buckshon, there is a one-year demolition clause in place – which would give Renegade sufficient notice to relocate.
In the meantime, he says, his group has kept the building in good shape and up to fire safety standards.
"The building is not unsafe," Mr. Buckshon said. "Nobody's stubbed a toe in there since we've had it."
But the city says "major issues" were uncovered during inspections around fire safety and exiting – two key areas, according to Patrick Ryan, chief building officer for the City of Vancouver.
"We generally do not like taking action like that ever, but in certain circumstances we need to look after the public interest," Mr. Ryan said.
The city will meet with Renegade on Tuesday at 9 a.m., the day the letter of closure is to be posted on the facility.
"At least we have their attention and that's one of the big steps on working with someone on dealing with an issue. … The important thing is we've told them of the issues, they're aware of the time frame we're looking at, they know the severity and we're also willing to work with them."
The facility is used by rehearsing musicians – including Dan Mangan, Hey Ocean! and Said the Whale – as well as visual artists and theatre companies; there are currently two productions occupying Renegade's studios to prepare for their openings.
"They're going to have to, I don't know, rehearse in a park or someone's living room," Mr. Buckshon said.
The touring production of The Book of Mormon is scheduled to hold auditions at the facility later this month. Theatre Under The Stars has also booked rehearsal space for its two summer productions. And there are props out or going out to various shows, including high-school productions.
Mr. Buckshon is investigating his options, including trying to find a new space in case he does need to leave.
"I plan to keep this company going."