Curtain to rise on old theatre

[attach]2716[/attach]After seven years of uncertainty, the curtain is set to rise again at the Humber Odeon, one of the city’s oldest movie theatres.

“We’re working to get it reopened as soon as possible,” said [url=]Rui Pereira[/url], whose company will operate the theatre. “We took over the theatre a couple of months back and we’ve been getting it ready.”

Pereira is currently in the process of re-outfitting the 61 year old theatre which had fallen into disrepair after sitting idle for seven years. In late November the upper level screen will open to a capacity of roughly 300 people. The main screen will follow when repairs are complete and will be able to seat about 600 people.

The reopening of the theatre is the latest episode in a series of events stretching back to its closure in 2003. Back then, the theatre’s owners applied to the city for a rezoning that would allow a 10 storey, 49 unit condominium tower to be built on the site.

Although residents opposed the plan, the zoning change was approved by community and city councils and was granted to property owners Claude Bitton and Paul Wynne.

Since then, Wynne has exited the picture and Bitton has acquired all the land west of the theatre to Riverview Gardens as well. However, he said he currently has no plans to re-develop the theatre site.

[attach]2717[/attach]Councillor Bill Saundercook, who was unaware that the theatre is set to reopen, speculated Bitton might be holding off on the redevelopment plans until real estate conditions in the city become more favourable.

“It’s not uncommon that developers do this,” said Saundercook. “The economy has a lot to do with it.”

“By comparison, Southport Plaza … was approved in 2003 for development. Then the developer sat on his approval till this past year and then sold it to another developer and now there’s a project underway.”

Saundercook pointed out Bitton may also chose to eventually sell his project approval to another developer.

Pereira would not comment on the nature of his agreement with Bitton, but said the two were close to finalizing a lease agreement for the space. Negotiations were ongoing in the summer. In May, the Town Crier had checked on the status of the theatre and found no plans in the works.

When informed, area residents welcomed news of the reopening.

“I think it’s good news,” said Steve McNally, chair of Bloor West Village Residents Association. “I think a lot of people when the application was made were wondering why it had to be destroyed as a semi-public kind of space, a space where cultural events and community gatherings and that sort of thing could take place.”

Although McNally laments the fact the rezoning approval has paved the way for other tall buildings in the area, he said he’s optimistic the Humber can remain a community space.

“People will be hopeful that this goes into the future and for some reason it doesn’t have to be knocked down for another condo because it’ll be seen as adding more life to the street,” said McNally.

[attach]2718[/attach]For his part, Pereira is hoping to attract a wide audience of moviegoers by playing first-runs. He also touts the convenience of a neighbourhood theatre for area residents who currently have to either get in a car to go to the Queensway megaplex or get on the subway and head downtown. As well, the renovation plan includes the addition of a restaurant on the main floor that will serve paninis and other types of quick food and snacks.

If that’s not enough to draw people in, Pereira points to the fact the Humber is one of the few places left in the city where Torontonians can get a sense of the grand old days of cinema.

“In a way it’s a dedication to the style of theatre that’s gone in Toronto,” said Pereira. “Hopefully people will turn out. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

The Humber Theatre is set to reopen in late November.