Capitol Theatre back in municipal hands

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Although the signage out front still reads “St. Clair College Capitol Theatre,” the college walked away from operating the Capitol in Chatham earlier this year, and now the municipality discarded two outside offerings and will run it on its own.
Although the signage out front still reads “St. Clair College Capitol Theatre,” the college walked away from operating the Capitol in Chatham earlier this year, and now the municipality discarded two outside offerings and will run it on its own.

Chatham-Kent council recently took steps to put the controversial past of the Capitol Theatre in Chatham behind them and voted to take over operation on a permanent basis.

In a report to council, General Manager of Community Development Bob Crawford put forward the recommendation, with a total annual budget of $543,886.

This move comes after St. Clair College served notice the management contract for the Capitol would be terminated as of June 20, 2016, after managing the theatre since 2012.

Crawford explained after council asked administration to look into options for running the theatre, a request for proposals (RFP) was sent out in August, and the municipality contracted a third party, Mellor Murray Consulting, to manage the process.

Of five original interested parties, four went on a mandatory tour of the theatre, and only three submitted bids and were interviewed – Jones Group, who operate Centennial Hall in London, Studio Black, a local group led by Rachel Schwarz and municipal employee group led by Evelyn Bish, director of community services.

An evaluation committee was set up to interview and assess the bids, according to Aileen Murray of Mellor Murray Consulting, and only one bid – the municipal group – was considered to score high enough on the criteria of the committee. The other two bids didn’t meet the minimum requirements and the price envelope in their bids wasn’t even opened.

Coun. Trevor Thompson had concerns about how an organization like the Jones Group was deficient in its bid and why council wasn’t privy to those details. He also wanted to know what the municipality would be doing with the Kiwanis Theatre.

“Our intent is to do a business analysis (on the Kiwanis) in the new year and bring it council,” Bish responded. “We are looking to re-purpose the theatre as a multi-purpose facility, and make it a smaller, more intimate space.”

Describing it as a “hot potato”, Coun. Doug Sulman said council really has no choice at this point.

“The hot potato was tossed back and it’s now back in our hands and I think we have no choice; we have to operate it,” Sulman said.

Several councillors agreed that options are limited.

“We have to let the past go. We have a beautiful theatre with a lot of economic spinoff in the community,” said Coun. Darrin Canniff.

Comparing the amount of money to run the facility to other municipalities in Ontario, the Capitol Theatre subsidy per capita would be about $5.23, and is on the lower end of the six cities it was compared to.

“Let’s face it; the Mirvish group ain’t coming to town. There is no angel coming to save us. We have no choice,” Coun. Derek Robertson said to council. “Now we have a responsible solution sitting in front of us. We hired a third party to manage the procurement and have had community input. Let’s place the naysayers behind us.”

Robertson added that the cost of the subsidizing the theatre “was embedded” in the draft budget coming to council in January.

Chief Financial Officer for Chatham-Kent Mike Turner confirmed the municipality can work the theatre into the budget.

“Yes, we can afford this; it has been incorporated into the draft budget,” Turner told council. “I was part of the evaluation team on this (municipal bid) and saw the thoroughness of their proposal. It is a good strategy to move forward with.”

The motion to take over operation of the theatre was passed 12-3, and the budgeted amount was passed 11-4.

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