Council gives temporary reprieve to Bluewater Summer Playhouse

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News

By Pauline Kerr

Bluewater Summer Playhouse is behind in its rent, and council is in the awkward position of having to do something about it.

Council expressed some flexibility, opting to give the board of Bluewater Summer Playhouse a bit of breathing space over the summer to look at fundraising and other possibilities, and to make some difficult decisions.

However, there’ll be no grants to cover the rent, and no forgiveness of the arrears that have been accumulating.

The group is one of five that operates in the Kincardine Arts Centre. The others are Victoria Park Gallery, Kincardine Theatre Guild, Kincardine Scottish Festival and Grey-Bruce Woodturners Guild. Rent from these groups amounts to $15,665 which helps offset the annual cost of operating the centre. Bluewater Summer Playhouse, which pays just over $3,000 annually in rent, is the only group in arrears.

Staff reported to council the annual operating cost of the building amounts to about $84,000. In 2016, hydro alone cost $40,000.

The staff report stated that as of May 31, Bluewater Summer Playhouse owed $15,472 in rent. The theatre group was ineligible for a community grant this year because of the money owed to the municipality.

As stated in the staff report, on May 17 of this year, representatives from the board of Bluewater Summer Playhouse asked council to forgive $10,000 of the amount owed. The remaining $5,000 would be repaid over three years. The board representatives also asked to be eligible for community grants or to receive funding from the tourism budget.

The staff report indicated funding through the tourism budget – in essence, having the municipality run the theatre – would result in a tax increase and was not recommended.

Repayment over three years was discussed extensively by council, with Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Faubert suggesting a longer repayment time of five or even 10 years, to reduce the monthly payment to a more reasonable amount.

Faubert said, “We want to support the arts, but we are the landlord… $700 a month (estimated three-year plan amount) will likely end the theatre. It’s not feasible. My hope is to come up with something easier… for the theatre to move forward in a sustainable manner.”

Coun. Laura Haight noted the matter of rent arrears “has come up before” and added, “even if you reset it to zero, expenses are still more than revenue.”

Coun. Randy Roppel said, “We’d like to help them out, but it’s the taxpayers’ money we’re spending.” He said he didn’t agree with grants and said council would like to “help them out but we don’t know how.”

He suggested the group has some “soul searching” to do – someone has to pay the debt, and it shouldn’t be the taxpayers.

Mayor Anne Eadie said a repayment plan over five years would reduce monthly payments to just over $500 and suggested the possibility of suspending interest for a time.

Coun. Maureen Couture said the suspension of interest should be for the rest of this year.

Faubert said she couldn’t vote for a repayment plan that would likely spell the end of a group that’s been operating for over 24 years. She said she preferred a “gentler” repayment plan. And when the matter was put to the vote, she kept to her word and voted against the plan.

The staff recommendation was for a three-year repayment program. The report warned about unintended consequences of other options, especially regarding other groups.

Council’s preferred option was for a five-year repayment plan, with interest to be waived for the remainder of this year, and rent to be received no later than Sept. 1 – after the group has some positive cash flow through ticket sales. But the debt has to be paid.