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Owner plans to demolish part of old theatre

BY CRAIG GILBERT Capitol Bingo manager Anne Finucane, like the 19 people she supervises, has little to do these days but prepare the former theatre for demolition and look for a new job.

Capitol Bingo manager Anne Finucane, like the 19 people she supervises, has little to do these days but prepare the former theatre for demolition and look for a new job.

CAPITOL BINGO employees Jean-Marc Pelland, P. Pelland, manager Anne Finucane and owner Bill Whitehead (back) are busy preparing the theatre portion of the building for demolition. Capitol Bingo opened in 1987.
The buildingÂ?s owner, Bill Whitehead, hopes the theatre portion of the building will be rubble by mid-September.

Finucane hopes to find something more stable before then.

Â?It wonÂ?t be in the bingo industry, I can tell you that,Â? she said. Â?ItÂ?s not stable anymore the way theyÂ?re regulating it. Not much is.Â?

The closure of the bingo hall in the Capitol Theatre on Cedar Street is the last chapter in not only the buildingÂ?s history, but in many relationships that have been formed in it.

Â?It hurts - 17 years of our lives gone,Â? Finucane said.

Capital Bingo opened its doors in 1987. Jean-Marc Pelland started calling numbers there in late 1988.

As he looks for something else to clean up in the quickly emptying hall, he admits it hurts to see the place close.

HeÂ?s worried about the patrons, many of them seniors living downtown, who have one less place to socialize and pass the time now.

Â?You know them by name, they know you by name,Â? he said. You come in, chat with them. Sure, you form relationships with them.Â?

Cedar Street wonÂ?t look any different once the former theatre is demolished, according to Whitehead.

The five existing store fronts will be joined by a sixth, and Whitehead hopes to retain the traditional entrance.

Only the theatre hall will be destroyed.

Â?Big theatres donÂ?t seem to be working anymore, itÂ?s the series of small theatres like what the city centre is doing that are going ahead,Â? he said of the prospect of re-converting the hall.

Â?What do you do with an old theatre?Â?

The design of the building, with its sloped, concrete floors, means a Â?horrendousÂ? cost would be attached to any renovations, said Whitehead.

Â?YouÂ?d be better to knock it down and start somewhere else,Â? he said.

Â?ItÂ?s a pity the Sudbury Theatre Centre didnÂ?t purchase this building when they were looking instead of building something else. The acoustics are beautiful.Â?

Whitehead claims he lost fully half of his business when the smoking ban took effect, and attributes the closure to the bylaw.

Capitol Bingo instituted a no-smoking policy a year ahead of the date the smoking bylaw was to take effect, said Whitehead. He was supposed to have until May 2004 to put in a division between the smoking and non-smoking sections, but a change of heart at city hall may have spelled Capitol BingoÂ?s doom.

Â?Suddenly (last) October, (the city) changed their minds and if you werenÂ?t ready with the division in, it was automatically no smoking,Â? Whitehead said. Â?It really hurt.Â?

Other communities have saved their old movie theatres and turned them into successful centres for the performing arts.

For example, North Bay converted its Capitol Theatre on the main street into the Capitol Centre for arts and entertainment more than a decade ago. It is a 1,015 seat proscenium theatre with fly tower and orchestra pit, suited for theatre, film, music, dance and public forums.

In Chatham-Kent, the federal government recently gave the Chatham Capitol Theatre Association $500,000 to help pay for the rejuvenation and reconstruction of the former Famous Players theatre.

Under the Job Creation Partnership Program of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 18 jobs were created for
people working on the renovations.

The Chatham Capitol Theatre is targeted to be complete by late 2005.

In 1991, the City of Moncton purchased its Capitol Theatre, together with the smaller, adjoining Empress Theatre. Restoration of this piece of Moncton heritage began in 1992.

Opened in the fall of 1993, this performing arts centre features a variety of entertainment including English and French theatre and live music. The theatreÂ?s 800-seat auditorium can be booked for various functions, conventions or reunions. Meeting space is also available on the second level.