Rio Theatre begins crowd-funding push to raise ‘significantly’ more than $4 million

John Kurucz - Vancouver Courier

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UPDATE MARCH 7: They’ve raised $100,000 from 1,302 backers in their first week since launching their campaign.

The threat of redevelopment that’s hung over the Rio Theatre for 11 months appears to have passed.

Theatre operator Corrine Lea told the Courier Thursday morning that her bid to buy the 80-year-old East Van venue was accepted by owner and theatre magnate Leonard Schein.

She now has a 60-day window to raise the necessary dough, which is “significantly higher” than the land’s assessed value of $4 million.

rio theatre vancouver
All donations Rio Theatre operator Corrinne Lea collects will be put towards a model she describes as part non-profit, part community trust. Photo Dan Toulgoet

“It feels like all this euphoria and excitement building up,” Lea said. “It’s like winning something then being careful what you wish for, so now we really have to make this happen. I’ve raised money before, so this is not a foreign thing for me.”

Lea put in a bid to buy the property near the intersection of Commercial and Broadway on Tuesday. Schein told the Courier Thursday that two other offers were on the table. Should the 60-day window elapse without Schein’s asking price, which was not disclosed, the single-screen theatre goes back on the market.

“Certainly the neighbourhood would like to keep her there operating the theatre,” Schein said. “I’m going to assume that will happen. She has 20,000 signatures on a petition. If she could get $100 from each one, that’s $2 million.”

Lea is now turning her mind towards a crowdfunding push that’ll begin in the coming days and a way to incentivize the donation process. She’s had hundreds of offers from people wanting to donate anywhere from $20 to $100,000 and will begin collecting that money once the crowdfunding effort goes live.

All donations Lea collects will be put towards a model she described as part non-profit, part community trust. Those who donate will essentially buy a share of the property, though she will become the landlord and owner of the site, and assume the mortgage and debt.

“I didn’t feel right with them investing in a property that then becomes my asset,” she said. “It kind of felt like a conflict of interest there. I wanted to figure out a way where it could go back to the community.”

Outside of financial offers and a petition push with more than 20,000 signatures, Lea’s efforts have included letters of support from the Vancouver Film School (VFS), Live Nation Canada and the Vancouver International Film Festival, among others.

“For a lot of our students over the many, many years, the Rio is an important rite of passage,” VFS spokesperson Christopher Bennett told the Courier Wednesday. “Whether they’re from other countries or from here in Canada, at some point or another they’re going to find themselves having a great time at the Rio.”

Theatre groups, community advocates and Hollywood celebrities — including Kevin Smith and Elijah Wood — have pledged their support for Lea’s efforts since news of the theatre’s potential sale hit the media two weeks ago.

Lea confirmed that Smith, a former VFS student, will stage a fundraiser at the Rio at some point in the coming weeks.

“We are talking to his people. That is going to become a reality for sure,” she said.

The Rio was built in 1938 and owned by Schein since 2011. Lea and a group of about 10 other investors first purchased it in 2008, but sold it to Schein when the market for single-screen theatres took a nose dive. She’s continued on as the operator and manager since.

The Grandview-Woodland community plan specifically calls for preservation of the area’s heritage and culture sites such as the Rio, the Cultch and the York Theatre. Building restrictions in the area limit development to 10 storeys and any plans to redevelop the site would require a theatre to be retained on the building envelope.

This isn’t the first time Lea’s business has felt the pinch, as she won a protracted battle for a liquor licence with the province in 2012. Around that same time, the business model moved away from solely movies, to live music, burlesque, comedy shows and other events.

The theatre has been in the black since then. Should Lea’s fundraising efforts materialize, the programming will remain as it is now.

“Because when there’s so much focus on development, everything is motivated by how much money you can make and everybody’s building up,” Lea said. “Meanwhile all the amazing community-based businesses are going out the window, it’s just so disheartening. It has to end at some point. We can’t keep letting it happen. I think that’s what happens when people give up. We could’ve easily said, ‘We can’t afford this, let’s just not do it’ and just watched a developer roll in and it would be over. If I didn’t have the support of the community I probably would’ve given up.”

Lea expects her crowdfunding effort to be online within a week. Details will be posted on the theatre’s Facebook page at facebook.com/TheRioTheatre.

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