Casual commentary about political, cultural and economic issues with a particular interest on the city of Winnipeg by John Dobbin
Friday, June 13, 2014
Globe Theatre Winnipeg - Where to Now?
I guess we can't say we didn't see this one coming. The three Globe Theaters in Portage Place are closing. This comes on the heels of the IMAX theater closing earlier on.
At the time of their construction in 1987 the theaters were a posh addition to the downtown theater crowd. Eaton's and the Bay were still going concerns as was the south side of Portage Avenue. The first Silver City was built at St. Vital in 1986 but it was half the size it is now. The big films were still downtown and on a Friday night, it was not unusual to see line ups outside the Northstar, the Capitol, The Met and the Garrick
In 1981, there were two multiplex theatres built downtown with the Towne and the Cineplex Eaton 7 theatres. Two years earlier in 1979, the Garrick Theatre expanded from the two theatre format to a four theatre format on purchased land next door.
There was alarm about downtown Winnipeg in the 1980s to be certain but there were three malls built from 1979 to 1987 in the area including Winnipeg Square, Eaton Place to Portage Place. The problem was there was even more malls being built in the suburbs in St. Vital, St. James, Kildonan and a doubling of Polo Park.
In little more than ten years, retail had exploded all over the city and with it came movie theatres. The reason suburban malls movie theatres took so long to catch on is that very few of them were very nice. The original Polo Park Cinema was in an awful basement with terrible concessions. It was far nicer to go the King Theater just down the road.
It really took the construction of Silver City St. Vital 6 theatre in 1985 to change people's habits completely. The moment St. Vital built the theatre it represented an improvement on the movie going experience, The woeful Eaton Place 7 screen multiplex from 1981 to 1991 was terrible. The cramped theatres and sound leakage from the food court outside was dreadful and most gave up on the place. It ended up showing art films till even that was rejected by Winnipeg movie fans. The food court eventually expanded into the old theatres.
The 8 screen Towne built in 1981 and the refurbished 4 screen Garrick of 1979 were much better and people still attend the Towne. It may get renewed life for years to come via proximity to Red River College and a bigger residential component from the Exchange District. The Garrick and the Northstar continued to deliver even when the grand old dames of the Met and Capitol collapsed. They lasted until the suburban malls delivered a crushing blow.
In 1998 and 1999, the nail was hammered in with the expansion of St. Vital Silvercity to 10 screens in 1998 and the newly built 14 screen Silvercity Polo Park in 1999. How can could anyone compete with 18 brand new state of the art movie theatres! The truth was almost no one could. By 2001, it was the end for the Garrick and the Northstar theatres.
Anyway this won't be a dissertation on urban and suburban. I don't think anyone can deny that the sound, the picture quality, the theatre amenities and the concessions compete well with the main enemy of movies...television.
It is sad to see The Globe Theatres go and it is further evidence that Portage Place continues to underwhelm.
But where do we go from here?
The University of Winnipeg has looked on longingly at the theatres as possible lecture halls. This might not be a bad match. The University of Winnipeg does not have many large size theatre halls. One wonders how they might make use of the space. Large classes, special lectures, art performances all come to mind.
The one hitch is that it is a bit of a hike from the university. There is some indication that university is already looking at moving some things over. In the last weeks, they took a 2000 square foot space on the second floor of Portage Place for the Legal Resource Centre, a legal help center for low income clients
The Globe Theatres occupy nearly 28,000 square feet! This is no small bite even for an expansionist university.
There are two other possibilities that could be suggested for Globe Theatre space. The first is that it could be used as a new exhibition hall in the some format as the now demolished MTS Exhibition Hall. At 10,000 square feet larger than the old location and all one level...not to mention gorgeous windows to Portage Avenue, the hall could attract many travelling shows such as Body World and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Perhaps Portage Place could tap on the MTS doors and see what their thoughts on the subject are.
The other suggestion for the space also leverage proximity to the MTS Centre. It would seem one of the best uses might be a sports bar and restaurant for the space. Moxies, Earl's and Milestones are all downtown. The Shark Club has been a runaway success. One more sports bar option for lunch, dinner and late nights might be just what the doctor ordered.
Sad as it is to see the Globe Theatre go, it is sadder to see the space under used. This could be a trigger for a major improvement in the mall much like how cityplace has undergone millions of dollars work after securing the Shark Club. It will be interesting to see what direction the operators of Portage Place go.