Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Old Met theatre making comeback

'Event space' slated to debut Nov. 30

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THE MTS Centre is quieter than usual this fall, but there are signs of life on the other side of Donald Street.

The 93-year-old Metropolitan Theatre is slated to reopen next week after a quarter-century of inactivity, thanks to a $16-million renovation, expansion and heritage restoration.

Winnipeg's Canad Inns Corp. has issued invitations for a Nov. 30 unveiling of the newly revitalized theatre, which has been converted into what the hotel chain has called a "multi-function event space."

Canad Inns has spent two years restoring the main theatre space, installing lounges in the lobby area and building a new structure on the south side of the building to house kitchens, elevators and washrooms. The project included efforts to restore heritage elements such as mouldings that originally adorned the venue when it opened in 1919 as the Allen Theatre.

"It's quite an extraordinary adaptive restoration," said Ross McGowan, president and CEO of CentreVenture, Winnipeg's downtown-development agency.

CentreVenture sold the Met to Canad Inns for $100,000 in 2006 and later helped secure a combined $3 million worth of grants from the city and province. The provincial grant came with a caveat that non-profit organizations have access to the building 30 days a year, and the city required the work to be substantially complete before 2013.

CentreVenture is using new property taxes from Longboat Development Corp.'s Centrepoint project on the north side of Portage Avenue to make streetscaping improvements in the vicinity of the MTS Centre, including the block in front of the Met. The theatre will be a key component of CentreVenture's plan to convert 11 blocks of downtown into a new entertainment and hospitality district, McGowan said.

Canad Inns did not respond to interview requests Tuesday. In 2011, company president and chairman Leo Ledohowski said the theatre may host high school graduations and cabaret-style concerts and screen vintage movies and Winnipeg Jets games.

Ledohowski said the Met will not compete with the Centennial Concert Hall, Burton Cummings Theatre or Pantages Playhouse Theatre, all of which have stadium seating. The plan for the Met called for the original sloped floors to be replaced with tiered platforms for cabaret seating.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who chairs council's historical buildings committee and represents the south side of downtown, said she's thrilled to see the Met reopen after 25 years.

"It's a building that seemed so precarious and so close to being lost for so long. The fact it's been preserved and coming back to life again is pretty exciting," she said. "This is exactly what we need to be doing downtown."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 A3

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