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Fight over funding as historic Revelstoke Roxy Theatre closes – temporarily

The Roxy Theatre is a downtown Revelstoke landmark. Its temporary closure last week caused much soul-searching and a heated online debate of sorts.    - Revelstoke Museum & Archives
The Roxy Theatre is a downtown Revelstoke landmark. Its temporary closure last week caused much soul-searching and a heated online debate of sorts.
— image credit: Revelstoke Museum & Archives

The Roxy Theatre closed its doors on April 2 – but likely only for two weeks, or less.

Owner Carl Rankin told the Times Review he’s doing some cleaning, painting and other maintenance inside the historic theatre, partly in preparation for sale.

He’s advertised the theatre in the Lower Mainland, and told the Times Review he’s received three expressions of interest.

The closure was certainly the talk of the town last week; the Roxy Theatre is amongst Revelstoke’s most notable landmarks, and is an entertainment mainstay for the community.

And by talk of the town, we mean on the streets, and in the coffee shops, and on social media.

In a Mar. 30 post to the Roxy Theatre Facebook page, Rankin lashed out at the City of Revelstoke’s director of economic development, Alan Mason, and to the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce’s executive director Judy Goodman.

Amongst other things, Rankin said the pair “don’t seem to care whether the Roxy is open or not. It’s shameful, but this is unfortunately very true.”

Normally, an inter-personal feud on Facebook wouldn’t be worth getting into, but it’s become tied into the theatre’s closure, drawing public attention.

The rant drew 107 shares, 128 likes, and 99 comments. Most lamented the theatre’s closing, but many backed Carl, casting stones at the civic powers that be – regardless of their actual ability or authority to intervene in the Roxy's business dealings.

In an interview later that week, Carl admitted he went a bit overboard on the Facebook post: “I must say I was a little angry that day, and I would have toned it another way,” he told the Times Review.

But he felt the city’s economic development department could have done more to support the business.

“It’s one of the iconic, most important businesses in Revelstoke. It’s been here for 77 years,” he said.

Specifically, Rankin is upset that a film society formed to assist the Roxy Theatre didn’t get funding from the Revelstoke Tourism Infrastructure Committee.

Rankin asked for funding to install a green room, sound system, new stage lighting and a new social media outreach program.

The Revelstoke Tourism Infrastructure Committee consists mainly of business stakeholders, many of whom work in the accommodation sector. They disburse funds that are collected through hotel taxes and earmarked for tourism infrastructure projects.

Put simply, they disburse a special tax on accommodation guests created with the agreement of accommodation stakeholders. Proceeds from the tax are earmarked to foster projects that will put heads in beds.

Alan Mason’s position as economic development director at the City of Revelstoke makes him a key player in many grant and funding applications. He said Rankin’s criticism of him is misplaced; he doesn’t decide on the projects that get funded – it’s a committee decision.

“They reviewed the application,” Mason said. “In the opinion of that committee, the theatre isn’t a big tourism draw. It’s nice to have but it’s not a big tourism facility.”

Although tourists visit the Roxy while here, it’s not a reason they come here, Mason said. The infrastructure committee is focused on things like the Nordic centre, snowmobile infrastructure, mountain biking trails and dirt-bike trails – destination facilities that can draw in tourists.

He said the accusation that he didn’t care about the welfare of a Revelstoke business is “absolute nonsense." Mason said he assisted Rankin and had taken steps to steer Rankin towards other funding sources. Moreover, Mason said said it’s not the tourism infrastructure committee’s role to fund private businesses. Rankin had earmarked $250,000 of a total $430,000 for the project towards an initial share purchase of the Roxy Operating Company.

Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Goodman also defended herself, saying she was misquoted in Carl’s Facebook post.

Goodman sits on the tourism committee and agreed with its decision. “I don’t think public money should be used for private business,” Goodman said, emphasizing the committee is seeking destination tourism projects. “Visitors don’t make a decision on a destination based on whether or not there is a movie theatre.”

The committee approved several projects in March, but also turned down others.

The Roxy’s future

Rankin said he’s developing the business for sale – he holds a lease at the theatre, but doesn’t own the building.

Independent movie theatres are small fish in a big pond. He can’t afford to bring the blockbusters in on release day because the studios demand a multi-week contract, which isn’t viable in a small market. Like all theatres, he’s competing against flat-screen TVs at home, and digital downloading.

In 2013, he applied for a liquor license for the theatre – something that was just allowed in B.C. last year. He’s restricted to two special occasion liquor licence events per month now. He has already installed a high-end digital projector in the theatre, which is capable of livestreaming performances, concerts, sporting events and more.

Rankin sees the future of the theatre as a combination of traditional movie trade, with the addition of live digital events, and real-live performances like comedy tours and musical acts. He points to other communities, like Nelson, Sidney and Salmon Arm, where community involvement in the local theatre made them viable again.

“I am just looking for some community support,” he said.

Later in the week, the Roxy Theatre advertised that movies will continue at the theatre.

[Disclosure: In February of 2013, after completing the story, Roxy Theatre to launch film society, the writer volunteered to help as a board member of the society designed to add a non-profit component to the historic theatre’s business model. Subsequently, he didn’t receive notice of any society meetings, nor did he attend any, although he was listed as a director in society paperwork, including the application that went to the Revelstoke Tourism Infrastructure Committee. He has since parted ways with the society.]

 

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