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Fort Macleod town council approves five-year lease agreement with Empress Theatre Society

Fort Macleod council last week approved a lease agreement with the Empress Theatre Society.
The agreement was about two years in the making.
“I’m happy to say that we have an agreement that the society has supported and the town has supported,” assistant chief administrative officer Jill Henderson told council.
Council delayed a memorandum of agreement that provides the society with $75,000 in annual funding for the next three years.
Henderson said the long-term funding commitment from council will help the Empress Theatre Society with its planning.
The lease and fee for service agreement states the Town of Fort Macleod recognizes the need to provide an opportunity for residents “to enhance and develop personal artistic skills through information, education, training and sharing.”
The agreement also states the town recognizes the need to operate the Empress Theatre to provide arts activities.
The Town of Fort Macleod owns the theatre and the Empress Theatre Society leases it for $1 a year and operates the building.
The Town of Fort Macleod is responsible for maintenance of the theatre’s building systems, including plumbing and electrical.
The Empress Theatre Society is responsible for general maintenance and costs of everything not related to the building’s structure.
The society will also pay for repairs, replacement and upgrading of office furnishings and equipment, as well as telephone and computer costs.
The society is responsible for insuring its property and for general liability insurance for events, and the town will insure the building.
Coun. Gord Wolstenholme wondered about the financial impact the agreement would have on the town.
“How much more is this going to cost us?” Wolstenholme asked.
Henderson said council will decide each year at budget time how much it will spend on the building.
This year, council has allocated $100,000 for the theatre in addition to the $75,000 in operating funds.
“Personally, I find that a little steep,” Wolstenholme said.
Chief administrative officer Sue Keenan said council must remember that it has a responsibility to maintain the theatre.
“I think it’s really important to remember that we own the facility,” Keenan said. “That shouldn’t be the responsibility of the non-profit group that is operating the facility.”
Keenan said research indicates the Town of Fort Macleod has not invested much in the theatre in recent years, and repairs that are costly will be needed.
However, the costs will fluctuate from year to year.
“Just because we’re putting $100,000 into the Empress Theatre (this year), that does not mean that will be council’s top capital priority for next year,” Keenan said.
Wolstenholme said he wanted it clear that council can’t fund every need.
“My point is we‘re not a bottomless pit,” Wolstenholme said. “The rubber meets the road somewhere.”
Coun. Michael Dyck, who represents council on the Empress Theatre Society board, said staff and volunteers realize there is not an unlimited amount of money available.
“They’re trying to be economical about it,” Dyck said.
Wolstenholme agreed council has to look after the buildings it owns, but noted there are many buildings with needs.
Keenan reiterated that council will make its capital spending decisions each year.
“It’s really incumbent on us to look for better ways to help this organization,” Keenan added.
Keenan said the Empress Theatre and Fort Museum are two facilities that benefit the community at large.
As such, the Town of Fort Macleod has a responsibility to provide support.
“I have no problem with any of that,” Wolstenholme said. “I might have a problem with the amount.”
During discussion it was suggested council could wait to approve the agreement until the 2016 budget was completed in a few weeks.
Dyck pointed out the Empress Theatre Society has been trying to get a fee for service agreement in place for years.
Council agreed to approve the lease agreement, but tabled the annual funding decision until the budget is completed.