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Edmonton company needs help to open new live theatre venue in Old Strathcona

Work is needed to turn the third floor of the Hulbert Block on Whyte Avenue into a live theatre space.
Work is needed to turn the third floor of the Hulbert Block on Whyte Avenue into a live theatre space. Courtesy/Byron Martin

A local improv and musical theatre company needs to raise $20,000 before the New Year or risk the opening of its new theatre venue.

Grindstone Theatre started in 2011. There are approximately 25 members who produce and perform seven shows. The theatre company currently uses space in the Varscona Theatre but there are plans to move to a new venue.

“The theatre needs its own venue so it can grow as a company. We also noticed the need for smaller theatre venues in town because there’s a lot of independent producers and artists creating work but needing an affordable space as well as an intimate space to put on their work,” artistic director Byron Martin said.

The theatre company has a conditional offer on a lease for a venue on Whyte Avenue in the Hulbert Block above Block 1912. The live theatre venue would be called the Grindstone Comedy Theatre. Martin said he expects it could change the dynamic on Whyte Avenue as well as the arts community in Edmonton.

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“If you’re going out on Whyte Avenue, we’re going to be the place people are going to check out if you want to see comedy, if you want to see improv. This is the kind of space we’re hoping to develop – with having something seven days a week, you can always rely on us.”

However, the space is in need of major renovation.

The theatre company needs to install walls and flooring as well as electrical and HVAC systems.
The theatre company needs to install walls and flooring as well as electrical and HVAC systems. Courtesy/Byron Martin
The theatre company needs to install walls and flooring as well as electrical and HVAC systems.
The theatre company needs to install walls and flooring as well as electrical and HVAC systems. Courtesy/Byron Martin

Martin said electricity and HVAC systems need to be installed and construction is required to put in walls, flooring and a bar. He said the renovated space will include an 80-seat theatre with a bar and rooftop patio.

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The theatre company is trying to raise $20,000 to put toward renovations. The total work costs $65,000 but the group received $45,000 from donors and its tenant improvement allowance. It is crowfunding to raise the balance.

However, there is a time limit on the work they need to do.

“It’s a pretty insane, overwhelming project. All the stars have to align,” Martin said.

“I’m going through our development permit and we really have to start renovations by Jan. 1 before we then have to restart the process of our development permit because it’s only good for 90 days.”

If Grindstone Theatre is able to raise $20,000 before the start of 2017, Martin said the theatre company will be able to open to the public on April 1, 2017.

Martin said the organization has applied for grants and other types of funding in the past but those timelines do not work with the timelines of commercial real estate.

“Grants can take up to nine months to hear back from and commercial space is not willing to wait that long,” he said.

“Once we’re up and running, we have enough shows and enough producers to have a solid business plan … to stay in business through the year and afford our lease.”

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Once the space is renovated and open, Martin said Grindstone Theatre will manage the space and there are plans to rent it out to other arts organizations in the city.

More information about the crowdfunding campaign can be found at this link.