About a dozen years after launching their project, members of the board of directors of the Empress Cultural Centre in NDG are keeping their fingers crossed, in anticipation of important news about construction funding from the federal and provincial governments coming through this year.
The board recently sent off an application to Quebec, and was last week completing one to Ottawa, for a total of around $9 million, to renovate and transform the former Empress Theatre/Cinema V on Sherbrooke Street across from NDG Park into a multifunctional centre for performing arts.
"An application has already been made to the provincial government, and there's a new grant available from Heritage Canada, so an application will be made," says Necdet Kendir, a Sherbrooke Street merchant and Empress board member, who has been spearheading the effort almost from the start.
"I think the grants are available as of April 1," he says. "That's for the construction and renovation of the whole building. So this is the stage where we are at. Everything is in place. We're just waiting for the money to come. We just have to wait."
Built in 1927 as a venue for burlesque and first-run films, the Empress became the Hermes/Cinema V, an art-movie house, starting in the late 1960s, and then a repertory theatre for second-run movies from the 1970s until 1992 when it closed.
Under the former administration of Montreal mayor Pierre Bourque and Vision Montreal city councillor Sonya Biddle, the City purchased the building in 1999. While over the years the vacant Empress, designed in an Egyptian art-deco style, fell into disrepair, there has been at least one attempt to revitalize it.
Although an initial stage of the Empress's restoration started under a different board, they did not have the endorsement of the Borough of Côte des Neiges-NDG, as is the case now. The Empress Cultural Centre will be a multipurpose complex aimed specifically at English-speaking Montrealers.
When completed, it will be devoted to performance and visual arts. The project will include a 350-seat main theatre, rehearsal and creation spaces with seating for more than 100, a 50-seat cabaret hall, a large studio, two medium-sized ones for music, an art gallery, and administration offices for the centre and its partners.
The Empress will have two resident professional theatre companies: Geordie Productions and Black Theatre Workshop. The McGill Conservatory plans to use the Empress's studio and performance space for its music education program for the community. In addition, all of the Empress's spaces will be available to artistic, cultural and community goups.