No wrecking ball soon at 63-year-old theatre

Redevelopment plan includes 55 condos

Leonard Schein doesn't sound anxious that he'll have to close The Ridge Theatre anytime soon.

The president of Festival Cinemas which leases the theatre space, Schein has known since last year that the 63-year-old single-screen theatre would be demolished when property owner Cressey redevelops the northwest corner of West 16th Avenue and Arbutus.

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"It could be six months from now. It could be a year from now," Schein said.

Festival Cinemas had hoped a multiplex could be constructed on the second storey of the proposed commercial and residential redevelopment.

Hani Lammam, vice-president of development and acquisitions for the development company Cressey, said plans that included a theatre were drawn up after it purchased the property in June 2011, but the concept was swiftly rejected. He said a multiplex meant more parking, more traffic and a need for more height than permitted in the zoning. There were also costly acoustical soundproofing considerations.

"It's too bad" Schein said. "It's nice to have an intimate theatre where not only people can see movies in the neighbourhood, but high school students and university students can work there close to where they live, so it's a lost opportunity for a first job for a lot of people."

Tom Lightburn, co-owner of Festival Cinemas, told the Courier two years ago that it would be lights out permanently at The Ridge at the end of 2010. The company wasn't going to renew its lease. Lightburn said the company that also runs the Park Theatre on Cambie Street and Fifth Avenue Cinemas on Burrard, had lost money three years running at The Ridge.

But Schein said the previous landlord gave Festival Cinemas a break on the rent, so the theatre has made money since. "It's extremely difficult to make money with a single-screen theatre," he added.

The difficulties facing singlescreen theatres were borne out in recent years with the closing of the Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway, Van East Cinemas on Commercial Drive and the struggles of the nearby Rio Theatre.

Cressey's $60-million plan calls for 55 one-to three-bedroom condos and a 22,000-square-foot commercial space the company hopes will be filled by a grocery store. Cressey expects to submit a development application to the city within weeks.

Lammam couldn't say when the theatre, bowling alley, restaurants, book, insurance, yoga and hardware businesses would receive notices to vacate. "It's really all subject to municipal approvals and market conditions," he said.

Lammam expect construction to take 20 months. Cressey is building the James development near the former Olympic Village, and has constructed hundreds of projects throughout the Lower Mainland, including Mantra at West Fourth and Pine. Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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