WINNIPEG — It’s one of Winnipeg’s most iconic buildings and now it will soon have a new owner.
True North has given formal notice to the Walker Theatre Performing Arts Group Inc., the volunteer board that oversees the Burt, that it’s going to exercise its option to buy the building.
While the terms of the deal are not being released, TNSE said part of it includes the money the organization has put into renovations over the past two years.
Many of those upgrades aren’t necessarily visible. There have been new pipes installed and windows in the back. However, concert-goers may notice there are now more men’s and women’s washrooms today than previous.
Seating is another big upgrade TNSE is looking to do.
“We will have new seats installed,” said Kevin Donnelly from True North Sports & Entertainment. “We are about 40 per cent of the way done. We have 200 new seats on the main floor, we’ve re cushioned about 100 on the first balcony.
Donnelly is hoping the main floor and first balcony seating will be completed by June 1.
If you’ve ever seen a show at the Burt you know uncontrollable temperatures have always been a problem. It’s one Donnelly said TNSE is looking to fix.
“Pockets would be freezing cold and other pockets would be boiling hot,” he said. “There was not air conditioning, there is not air conditioning currently. An air conditioning system is being researched now. We hope to install something before summer.”
Since True North started leasing the building two years ago it has doubled the number of annual shows from 30 to more than 70 performances per year.
While nothing has been decided, there has been discussions over changing the name.
“The business model quite frankly needs to monetize the name. We need to find value,” said Donnelly. It’s very common now that every public venue gets a sponsored name attached. We are in conversation with Burton and his manager. They would love to stay attached and they are excited.”
The Burt has a troubled past. The 109-year-old venue has changed hands a number of times since it opened.
Originally known as the Walker Theatre, The Burton Cummings Theatre for Performing Arts (“The Burt”) was constructed in 1906-07. The theatre has housed ballets, operas and Broadway-style shows.
It was seized by the city in 1944 for $35,000. Just one year later, in 1945 the theatre was converted into the Odeon Cinema and served as the city’s most popular single-screen movie theatre.
After it closed in 1990 Walker Theatre Performance Arts Group Inc., a non-profit organization, took it over and converted it back into a live entertainment venue which opened the following year.
It was that year that it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada as well as a Provincial Heritage Site.
In 2002, the theatre was renamed after Burton Cummings, Winnipeg-born performer, and former lead singer of the Guess Who.
In April 2014, True North Sports & Entertainment Limited assumed management and operating control of Winnipeg’s historic Burton Cummings Theatre. Under a lease arrangement, True North agreed to provide its programming and entertainment services and expertise to the 109-year-old, 1,604 seat former vaudeville theatre.