Long before they heard the bad news, some members of the group looking to save Chilliwack's Paramount Theatre from demolition felt constrained by the process put in place by city hall.
Chilliwack city council voted six to-one to demolish the Paramount Theatre at its afternoon meeting Aug. 21.
Kim Mallory, who is a member of the Friends of the Chilliwack Paramount, said since June, the group wasn't given a fair shake, and their plan faced roadblocks put up by Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO), city hall, and even the Downtown BIA.
"We are not developers, we are not wanting to open a for-profit business, we are a non-profit society looking to do something for the benefit of our community," said Mallory, whose photography business is based in the Stacey Block on Yale Road near Five Corners.
"It feels like a losing battle."
While nearly every downtown business owner Mallory asked- including every restaurant- expressed support for the proposal to re-invent the cinema, the Downtown BIA remained silent and unsupportive.
Krista Butt, who owns Cornerstone Framing and Gallery on First Avenue, said she felt the group was up against the city's downtown revitalization plan, which promotes the policy of "assembling development-ready land blocks."
This translates to "acquire and demolish," according to some.
Mallory fears-and she says she has heard-the city plans on acquiring all the buildings from the Empress to the Stacey Block to similarly demolish in preparation for a developer.
The Irwin Block at Five Corners is currently for sale with a $1.28 million price tag in the window.
In making the motion to demolish the Paramount, Coun. Ken Huttema said bold steps are needed to address the section of downtown where the Paramount is located.
"This is another step towards that," Huttema said.
Coun. Chuck Stam agreed and said that it was the city's job to assemble land so that when the economy turns around, development can step in.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said that to realize the full vision of the downtown requires patience, as longterm revitalization takes time.
"This process calls for patience on our behalf," Gaetz said. "One of the recommendations [of the Downtown Core Task Force] is to assemble pieces of land in the downtown and make bold moves to actually take down buildings that cannot be remediated."
Recommendation seven in the task force report is to "assemble land, demolish and remediate."
She did say that "whenever you are demolishing a building you better paint a picture of a preferable future or you have no vision in your community."
Gaetz's vision of downtown Chilliwack includes residential units above commercial above retail. That vision out as long as six years ago, when urban design consultant Michael von Hausen led downtown revitalization open houses.
Urban planners everywhere say that for a downtown to revitalize and flourish, people need to live there. At the public meetings into the downtown strategic plan meetings held in 2006, the issue of people living, working and playing in the downtown core was front and centre.
"The number one element brought up at workshops was safety, perceived or real," von Hausen said at the time. "When children don't spend time downtown that's when you have a problem."
Back in 2009, developer Dan Kingma restored a building downtown next to Decade's with loft apartments above commercial space.
"We need more residents that own their own property downtown," Kingma told the Times at the time. "The old downtown has a lot to offer that box stores and shopping malls can't, living in the area also offers a less sterilized environment than the suburbs on the south side of the freeway."
There was impatience three years ago, which was three years after the public meetings held about the city's downtown plan. But the message from city hall is for continued patience.
"Economists tell us from seven to 30 years out in scope: it's going to take that long to develop it and change directions," Gaetz said in 2009.
But Mallory and Butt say downtown is changing for the better now without the city doing anything.
"It is revitalizing all by itself without the city getting involved," said Mallory. "Now that we need the city with the Paramount, they have ignored us. . . . They are not working with what we have. They want to demolish and start over."