$2.1 million earmarked for Saint John's Imperial Theatre retrofit

The total cost of retrofit is $2.69 million, with the theatre providing $538,387 of that amount, the rest coming from the federal government. (Ryan Lavigne - image credit)
The total cost of retrofit is $2.69 million, with the theatre providing $538,387 of that amount, the rest coming from the federal government. (Ryan Lavigne - image credit)

Saint John's Imperial Theatre is getting $2.1 million from the federal government to make the building's heating and cooling systems more environmentally friendly.

The total cost of the retrofit is $2.69 million, with the theatre responsible for $538,387 of that amount.

"We're absolutely thrilled that we were able to get the maximum amount allowed by the grant, which was 80 per cent of the estimated cost of the renovation," said Angela Campbell, the theatre's executive director.

She said the "antiquated" heating and ventilation system needs to be replaced.

The improvements should shave the annual energy bill by 62 per cent, Campbell said, while reducing the theatre's greenhouse gas emissions by 135 tonnes a year.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Wayne Long, Liberal MP for Saint John-Rothesay, speaking at the funding announcement, said the Imperial is a "cornerstone" of the city's historic community and the money "will allow the theater continue hosting just wonderful performances, and meeting Saint John residents needs for another 100 years."

The theatre opened in 1913, was a movie theatre and then a church, then reopened as a theatre in 1994.

Little change for visitors

Campbell said the upgrades won't make a big difference to the way people experience the theatre.

"The overall esthetic of the building isn't going to be impacted very much at all," she said, tough the improvements will provide air-conditioning in more areas of the building.

Only the stage and auditorium are air conditioned, Campbell said.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

"So what we'll be able to do with this is … increase cooling systems, into the offices, in the lobbies and in the backstage and dressing room areas," she said.

That increased cooling will be thanks to the HVAC replacement. Campbell said the system has been in use since the building reopened as a theatre in 1994.

"Although state of the art at the time, it is now 30 years old," she said.

With this money, the theatre can re-focus fundraising efforts on the running list of improvements a 120-year-old building needs, Campbell said.

Imperial Theatre
Imperial Theatre

"To say that there is a, you know, a huge relief from the organization's perspective that we don't have to do an in-depth, capital fundraising campaign to pay for the HVAC overhaul, would be an understatement," Campbell said.

"The seats are 30 years old, they're going to need to be replaced in the near future," and the theatre is also looking to improve its technical equipment to keep up with industry standards.

The hope is to complete renovations by summer 2024.