The Town of Gananoque has voted to sell two local theatre facilities for a nominal sum to their longstanding tenant, the Thousand Islands Playhouse.
During Tuesday evening's meeting councillors agreed to sell the Firehall Theatre, located at 175 South Street, and the Springer Theatre at 690 Charles Street South, to the Thousand Islands Foundation for the Performing Arts for $10.
The Thousand Islands Foundation has been a long-term tenant and has been occupying the two local theatres and waterfront property as the Thousand Islands Playhouse for the last 40 years.
In 2015, the town entered into a 49-year lease agreement with the foundation to lease the two Gananoque theatres. The existing lease agreement was set to expire on May 20, 2063.
The Playhouse was looking to do renovations and other improvements to the properties, as well as seek additional grants and funding opportunities, but was having trouble doing so under the current arrangements with the town, so it had requested to purchase the buildings and lands from the town, explained town chief administrative officer Shellee Fournier.
The Playhouse's plan is to rejuvenate the historic buildings and to add new life to the waterfront, said Brett Christopher, managing artistic director of the Thousand Islands Playhouse.
"In order to successfully attract both public and private support, it is essential to own the buildings that we inhabit and I am so grateful that council recognized this challenge and is working with us to build a bright future for the community," added Christopher.
The sale agreement includes a right of refusal option for the town to re-purchase the buildings under the same terms, including re-purchasing the land and property for the same price and conditions if the foundation decides to cease using the lands for cultural, recreational or tourism activities.
"This decision will give the Playhouse the self-sufficiency to make positive changes to the property, and to create a significant cultural hub for Southeastern Ontario," Gananoque Mayor Ted Lojko said in a prepared statement, adding that the Playhouse has been "a key economic driver" for Gananoque for decades, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has proven itself to be a leader of the community.
According to the Playhouse, the venues were originally constructed as the Gananoque Armories and the Gananoque Canoe and Motor Club and now host a variety of cultural events and attract more than 45,000 people each summer to the area.
"This is a huge moment that will allow us to proceed with a multi-phased vision to reinvigorate the Playhouse properties as accessible gathering spaces," said Christopher, in a prepared statement.
The Playhouse will maintain public and theatre-goer access to the waterfront dock area outside of the Springer Theatre. Recently the Playhouse has released drawings for the first phase of an upgrade to the Springer Theatre facility and waterfront property on the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River.
The upgrades to the waterfront theatre and lands will include a focus on an outdoor gathering space for theatregoers and community events.
"I believe that the future of Gananoque is arts and culture and this agreement is one step towards reaching that future," added Lojko.
(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times