Theatre patrons give thumbs down to proposed Sydney fire station location

Plans to relocate a Sydney, N.S., fire station have set off alarm bells with some theatregoers who are upset convenient parking for the Highland Arts Theatre may soon be at a premium.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has identified a parking lot across the street from the theatre as its preferred location for the new build.

While no final decision has been made, the site at the corner of George and Pitt streets has at least one key advantage over other proposed sites.

"It's a piece of property that the municipality already owns, so we don't have to go out and look for the purchase of other properties from other private citizens," said District 5 Coun. Eldon MacDonald.

CBRM is currently leasing the site to the Sydney Downtown Development Association, which is using it for paid parking.

Holly Conners/CBC

Theatre executive director Wesley Colford was shocked to learn about his potential new neighbour from recent news reports. He said he understands safety has to be the priority in selecting a site, but was surprised by the response on social media.

"What I immediately got from our patrons and from the public at large was a sense of just how impactful this was going to be to their experience," he said.

The theatre is open 150 nights per year and draws between 200 and 400 patrons per night, said Colford. Many patrons are of an older demographic and some have mobility issues.

"It's all fine to say that there's parking on the streets and there's parking on the Esplanade, and I do think there's more parking often than we think of," he said.

"But if you're someone who doesn't have an easy time walking, especially when it's icy, especially when the snow banks are four or five feet tall, that's a big consideration."

George Mortimer/CBC

CBRM is in a hurry to build the new fire station so that the existing station on the Esplanade can be torn down to make way for the new NSCC campus.

MacDonald said municipal staff and the firefighters union evaluated potential sites based on factors including response times.

Submitted by Highland Arts Theatre

"It's important that people realize that when we have municipally owned land, we have to make those decisions based on what we feel best represents the public at large," he said.

MacDonald couldn't say whether the public will be consulted before council makes a final decision on the site.