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New Westminster council rejects compensation bid

The Columbia Theatre (previously Raymond Burr) was sold to Lafflines owner Barry Buckland in 2009. - NewsLeader file photo
The Columbia Theatre (previously Raymond Burr) was sold to Lafflines owner Barry Buckland in 2009.
— image credit: NewsLeader file photo

City council has rejected the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society’s contention it is owed compensation for assets it previously owned, but it’s president vows the fight “ain’t over.”

The society claims an agreement was made in 2006 that it would receive $14,000 for several items it left behind if the Columbia Theatre, previously known as the Raymond Burr Theatre, ceased to function as a community theatre.

When its lease for the theatre expired in 2006, the society agreed to leave behind 14 items it claimed the group had purchased through fundraising, even though it had received a substantial offer for them. In a May 2006 letter, then-society president Ted Syverson said if the theatre stopped being used as a community theatre the city would pay $14,000 in compensation for assets worth more than $70,000. The compensation was to be used to fund education in the performing arts

Although current president Ted Eddy has uncovered minutes from an in-camera meeting saying council approved the compensation in principle, the city said nothing was ever signed. After appearing before council Jan. 14, he was asked to produce within a week documentation to prove the city owed the money.

“I looked at all the emails and the information they gave us, and it really comes down—for me—to some simple concepts. Was there any legal obligation to pay it, and the answer was no,” said Coun. Bill Harper.

The Columbia was sold in 2009 to Lafflines comedy club owner Barry Buckland, who reconfigured it into two facilities. Eddy said the changes make it inappropriate for community theatre, and the Columbia is a commercial enterprise and not a community theatre.

However, Harper and Coun. Chuck Puchmayr, said the city’s sales agreement with Buckland requires the theatre be available for community use at a reduced rate.

Puchmayr pointed out the city charged Eddy’s group nominal rent, made renovations, and forgave property taxes to the tune of a total of $666,000.

“For them to ask for $14,000 after the city gave them a million dollar building for a nominal rent and then paid their bills and taxes, I’m just amazed we gave so much, and they still want $14,000. I’m baffled by it,” said Puchmayr.

“I don’t believe the City of New Westminster owes this organization a nickel on this issue.”

On Tuesday, Eddy said what council didn’t consider is the economic spinoff the society generated while it occupied the theatre.

He was surprised he wasn’t allowed to talk during his second appearance before council on Monday.

“The procedure was a bit surprising given that I had asked for an extension of time on a couple of documents that I wanted to put before them. They didn’t even consider that request,” said Eddy. “I didn’t realize they would close debate that quickly … Injustice was swift.”

Eddy questioned why council didn’t do any due diligence to find out why there wasn’t a signed agreement. He vows to continue to search for the truth and fulfil his fiduciary duty to maximize the assets.

“It ain’t over,” said Eddy.

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