Brockville, theatre groups reach deal

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Brockville’s two main community theatre groups and city hall have reached an agreement over the groups’ Brockville Arts Centre lease.

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An arrangement up for discussion at next Tuesday’s general committee meeting calls for a phased rent increase over a five-year lease agreement between the city and the Brockville Operatic Society and the Brockville Theatre Guild, which would now be joint signatories to a single lease for the arts centre’s musi-theatre.

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“I’m pleased to share that the City of Brockville, the Brockville Theatre Guild and Brockville Operatic Society have reached agreement in principle on a five year lease for the Musi-Theatre at Brockville Arts Centre,” Mayor Matt Wren wrote on social media Friday.

Earlier this summer, the two theatre groups went public about their opposition to new rate hikes for the musi-theatre, the rehearsal, prop carpentry and storage space at the back of the theatre building, and said the increases might force them to vacate the arts centre, their longtime home.

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City council last month agreed to reconsider the issue, following sometimes testy remarks from the mayor who, among other things, criticized the theatre groups for going public with their opposition after the rate hikes were previously discussed.

In his social media post, Wren struck a more conciliatory tone.

“While large percentages had been the focal point of some of the community conversation around this situation, the dollar value at issue was about $6,000 split between the two organizations,” wrote the mayor.

“However, an increase of that amount all at once turned out to be very difficult to adjust to for the non-profit groups involved. As such, the City has offered to spread the increase out over the term of the lease to make it easier to manage.”

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“I want to thank representatives of the Theatre Guild and Operatic Society for working with us to resolve this matter. The few bumps along the road are acknowledged, but part of the journey we collectively want to move forward from to maintain our shared focus on the cultural life and priorities of our community,” added the mayor.

Theatre Guild president Chris Griffiths on Friday said the new deal follows discussions with council members and city officials.

“We had a chance to be better advocates,” said Griffiths, who acknowledged a lack of communication was among the “failings” of the two theatre groups.

The non-profit theatre groups each paid $6,247, or $2.65 per square foot, in 2022, for use of the musi-theatre. The previous increase called for a two-year lease that moved that figure to $4 a square foot this year, and then to $5.50 next year, or more than double last year’s rate.

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Griffiths said Friday the new deal represents an increase of roughly eight per cent a year, spread over five years, not tied to the consumer price index.

He added the two groups can live with this increase, “the way it’s phased in and that it’s a much gentler slope.”

In a report to the general committee, the city’s manager of cultural services, Anne Shropshire, and city manager Sandra MacDonald outline a lease running from 2023 to 2027. The two groups will pay a combined $13,494.00 this year ($6,747.00 per group), ramping up to $17,687.88 in 2027 ($8,843.94 per group).

After discussions with the city, said Griffiths, the theatre groups acknowledged they have to do their part to reduce the subsidy they get from the city.

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The agreement states the two theatre groups will not have exclusive use of the musi-theatre, and the space will no longer be referred to as the “home of” the theatre groups.

Griffiths said city officials were adamant about the latter part, but also noted the removal means the theatre groups are not jointly liable for anything that might happen in the space.

“The loss of that language in the actual agreement doesn’t really change anything mechanically,” said Griffiths.

Representatives of the operatic society and theatre guild are to address the general committee meeting, which starts at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, before committee members vote on the new deal. If approved at the committee level, it will go to the full council for a final vote, likely the following week.

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