Theatre groups feeling the pinch of real estate boom

Soaring prices and a lack of real estate in Victoria isn’t just impacting those searching for a home.

Soaring prices and a lack of real estate in Victoria isn’t just impacting those searching for a home, it’s also forcing some of the city’s theatre companies dangerously close to shutting their doors.

Operating a theatre and drama studio in the community for the last 22 years, Kate Rubin had no choice but to recently move from her space on Fisgard Street after learning her rent would double. It wasn’t feasible to renegotiate a lease, so the hunt began for a new location to continue teaching her 75 students about the world of theatre.

Rubin found a suitable space not far from her old location and the theatres used to perform. It’s much smaller than her old studio, but she feels lucky to still have a home.

“It’s (the real estate boom) forcing a lot of people to either look at renting from other people or try to find multiple people in the same space, but it’s still not easy,” said Rubin, who’s since sold her business to Theatre SKAM due to personal reasons.

“It’s forced some (not-for-profit)people to close their doors for sure.”

Theatre SKAM found themselves in a similar situation. Operating in the old Burnside elementary building that was recently reclaimed by the school district, the small theatre company that’s been active in the community since 1995 was suddenly searching for a new home at the same time as Rubin, Kaleidoscope Theatre, Paper Street Theatre (improv) and the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers. Both Paper Street and CineVic were forced from their Fort Street location to make way for a new condo development.

SKAM’s artistic producer Matthew Payne looked at specific spaces he knew would work for the theatre company, but there were already plans for all of them. Moving into Rubin’s new space, he’s since talked with the city and the Capital Regional District about available theatre spaces in the region and the lack of them.

“We (theatre companies) were all homeless for a brief period of time and we all remain keen to continue collaborating and discussing with each other, what are the long term steps we can take to remedy that?” said Payne.

“It is a serious problem. The City of Victoria, they are limited by resources, just like everyone else.”

The disappearance of affordable space for the arts community is one that’s also causing Victoria Coun. Pamela Madoff concern, along with the lack of affordable space for artists to live.

According to Madoff, it’s one of the issues that’s been identified in the city’s arts and culture master plan, but she’s yet to get a grasp on how bad the situation has become. One of the ideas being floated is designating Rock Bay as an arts district, but Madoff said it all still comes down to what’s available and the cost of rent.

In the meantime, she believes it’ll only get worse as the cost of property continues to rise and more development in the city than the 1960s.

“Seeing existing buildings being redeveloped as well with demolition is something we haven’t seen in a significant way,” said Madoff, noting when Vancouver no longer became affordable, artists moved their studios to East Vancouver, but in Victoria there is nowhere else to go.”

“For artists and anybody in the creative profession, my greatest fear is they are going to have to leave the region, period. It’s so depressing to me. Victoria was never that kind of city and now I just fear it’s going to be a place for the very rich and the subsidized and nobody in between.”