By P.A. Sevigny The Suburban Step by tiny step, and after more than a decade of assiduous effort, the Empress Theatre project is finally beginning to get some traction. Just as the wheels of a locomotive begin their slow turn to move the train out of the station, the west end project is beginning to gain the kind of momentum that can?t be stopped. ?Everybody is beginning to see this project for what it is,? said project coordinator Christiane Loiselle. ?All three levels of government are talking to us and all of them agree it?s a fantastic project?and they all say they?re going to do their best to make it happen.? After years of false starts and endless delays, the local community is finally beginning to notice what?s happening on the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Old Orchard. On the building?s first floor, initial plans call for a 350 seat-proscenium theatre along with a multi-functional ?black box? theatre on the second floor where the movie theatre used to be. Plans are also being made for rehearsal space, various dance and music studios along with room for cabaret acts on the second floor mezzanine facing Girouard Park off Sherbrooke Street. Last Thursday night, local residents crowded into the theatre?s Sherbrooke Street office because several students out of Concordia University?s Art Education faculty wanted to consult the community about what they thought could, and should be done with the theatre?s public space. Professional artist Dan Buller, a member of the internationally recognized Heavy Weight Art Projects, gave a brief presentation about some of his public art pieces after which Montreal artist Scott Harber discussed the positive experience he had with collec- By Joel Goldenberg The Suburban Côte St. Luc council added its voice to the gathering opposition against a proposed casino on the site of the Blue Bonnets race track in Côte des Neiges/NDG. Last week, a coalition of community groups held a press conference to denounce the Attractions Hippiques proposal, being studied in Superior Court. The groups are calling instead for social housing on the site, and there is also concern about the unwelcome temptation of Quest for the best winner... n

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NDG?s Empress Theatre right on track

CSL opposes proposed Hippodrome casino

tive art projects in Montreal North. During a lively question and answer period, ideas ranged from inexpensive light shows to letting taggers use the back walls of the theatre as an impermanent exhibition space for their ?oeuvre.? ?The community?s support has always been the key to opening up this theatre,? said Loiselle. ?What?s important is how the community is beginning to get involved and define what is, after all, going to be their theatre.? While the theatre?s renovation is expected to cost more than $9 million, Loiselle expects the provincial government to be the major player behind the project?s renovation and its eventual success. ?The CALQ (Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec) recognize the need for the space,? she said. ?However, to qualify for their support, we soon realized we had to find the right partners who needed the space before they [the CALQ] could even talk to us.? Last March, after Montreal brewer Peter McAuslan took over as president of the project?s board of directors, Loiselle said it wasn?t long before the project had the partners it needed to qualify for the province?s help. While the McGill Conservatory was already an active associate, Elsa Bolam?s Geordie Productions and Montreal?s Black Theatre Workshop both joined the project because both theatre companies were still looking for a permanent residence for their companies after years of production on borrowed or rented stages throughout the city. ?Not only will both theatres have a permanent home but other companies can use our space whenever it?s available,? said Loiselle. ?Everybody in the city?s performing arts community recognize this building?s potential and what a deal this could be compared to what it would cost to build a new theatre.? gambling, especially in a low-income area of town. For Côte St. Luc, the land is also seen as a major part of a proposed indirect Cavendish Boulevard extension between St. Laurent and Côte St. Luc, and a potential location for transport and development. Côte St. Luc?s resolution, passed last week and proposed by councillor Dida Berku, points out that Montreal?s urban plan calls for the building of 2,000 to 10,000 residential units in the area. The resolution also points out that it is well Quest for the best winner... Quest for the best winner

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* Only a couple of weeks after the federal arts budget promised more government money for various infrastructure projects, Loiselle said Heritage Canada executives were seriously impressed with the project and the board?s new business. During all the time he spent working the streets of the riding before last year?s federal election, local Liberal MP Marc Garneau was often told about the project and he has promised the theatre?s board members he would do what he could to help move the project along the proper Ottawa channels. Local MNA Kathleen Weil, Jean Charest?s new Minister of Justice, is also enthusiastic about the new theatre project and Loiselle said she promised board members she would do what she could to turn the theatre?s empty space into a working reality. Loiselle also told how borough executives Pierre Jobin and Gilles Bergeron (now a member of the theatre?s board of directors) were a great help, especially when they used their experience to help frame and properly formulate the theatre?s various applications for support from various government agencies. ?They taught us how to do things right the first time because,? she said, ?anything else is nothing but a waste of time.? Meanwhile, water once again froze in the theatre?s pipes over the weekend and the back-up was forced up and through the building?s old walls and through the office ceiling.. Local resident and stalwart theatre volunteer Robert Dunn was doing his best to contain the damage with plastic sheets and buckets to catch the spill. ?I can?t wait until they begin to fix this place up,? he said as he began to climb a ladder to fix a hole in the ceiling. ?I love this old building. It?s beautiful and it deserves everything we can do to bring it back to life.? n

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THE SUBURBAN, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2009 ? 11

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