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Empress Theatre Society seeks new deal with town

The Empress Theatre Society wants a new business relationship with the Town of Fort Macleod.
The society wants to concentrate on programming and operations, and turn over maintenance of the 100-year-old building to the municipality.
“The Empress Theatre is celebrating 100 years of association with Main Street For Macleod,” Dave Coutts told council Oct. 9. “It is a proud historic accomplishment and we are committed to its continuance.”
Coutts, theatre executive director Brent Hutchinson and society members Dianna Wakelin, Ed Granger, Jim Day, Shawn Ward and Romeo Tibert appeared as a delegation at the regular council meeting.
They asked council to strike a committee that will investigate a new business agreement between the town and the society.
“The building is an asset in the Town of Fort Macleod infrastructure which holds a prominent place on Main Street,” added Coutts, who is honorary chairman of the society’s centennial committee. “The Empress belongs to all of us. It truly is our theatre.”
Coutts told council the Empress Theatre Society does not have the expertise to maintain and upgrade the theatre.
“The Empress Theatre board and management have to spend an inordinate amount of time, effort and dollars on the building, rather than on what they do best, namely programming,” Coutts said.
Coutts said the Town of Fort Macleod has existing expertise in operating and maintains facilities such as the arena and pool.
The town also has expertise in tendering and awarding contracts, insurance, security and utilities.
The town can also tap grant funding for building enhancement and maintenance that the non-profit society cannot, Coutts said.
The society’s strengths lie in programming — bringing concerts, movies, plays and other cultural activities to the theatre.
The society also does fund-raising, marketing, hires and trains staff, co-ordinates volunteers and plans events and programs.
Coutts told council the society is competing with itself for fund-raising. Money raised for building repairs and upgrades is money the society does not get for programming and operations.
The new agreement envisioned by the Empress board would see the Town of Fort Macleod upgrade and maintain the building.
The theatre society would concentrate on programming, fund-raising and marketing. Both the town and the society would apply for grants.
The Empress group proposed a fee for service/lease contract.
“We cannot continue working under the present agreement without making reductions to programming and operations,” Coutts said. “We are, however, committed to the objective of sustainability through a shared, co-operative effort.”
Romeo Tibert of the Empress Theatre Society said the agreement would be similar to ones the City of Lethbridge has with some organizations.
The city looks after the buildings, and the organizations are in charge of operations and programming
“They each have their own responsibilities,” Tibert said.
At present, the Town of Fort Macleod owns the building and provides the Empress Theatre Society with a grant of about $40,000 each year.
Later in the meeting, after the delegation had left, council agreed to strike a committee with representation from the town and Empress society.
“Striking an ad hoc committee doesn’t cost us very much, but this conversation will come back to this council table very quickly,” Mayor Shawn Patience cautioned.