News / Vancouver

East Van's iconic Rio Theatre 'in danger of being developed': owner

But Corinne Lea insists it's not goodbye for the 80-year-old Vancouver cinema amidst purchase offer

Corinne Lea, owner of the Rio Theatre, at the East Vancouver business and 80-year-old cinema on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 after news the building's for sale by her landlord went public

David P. Ball / Metro

Corinne Lea, owner of the Rio Theatre, at the East Vancouver business and 80-year-old cinema on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 after news the building's for sale by her landlord went public

An East Vancouver arts icon is 'in danger' of going the way of so many other small businesses as the city's real estate values soar, the owner of the Rio Theatre revealed Saturday.

But as fans of the independent theatre and performance venue took to social media to express their shock and dismay on the 80th anniversary of a cinema at 1660 E. Broadway Ave. — and 10 years after she bought it — Corinne Lea said there's hope.

But only if she can find a way to buy the property before it risks being redeveloped into a "multiplex."

Rio owner Corinne Lea confirmed the theatre property near Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station was put up for sale by the lot's owner — but insisted it's not the end of the Vancouver arts fixture.

"I feel like we're always on a ride here," Lea joked in an interview behind her cinema's box office Sunday. "Ideally, I hope we can just buy it, and that will be a happy story. If it doesn't go that way, I'm pretty sure people will get up in arms about it."

David P. Ball/Metro

The business is the latest to make headlines for a potential cultural loss to the city.

"There have been so many venues shutting down and just dropping … because of changes to the industry," she said. "People are already aware of the losses, and they don't want to see us lose any more venues.

"But people also have a very personal attachment to this place. People got married from meeting here, people will come for 12 hours for a Lord of the Rings marathon, it's emotional."

And thanks to eight years left on her lease, Lea added, her cinema — popular for its alcohol license and mix of mainstream feature films and independent and festival offerings, cult film classics and burlesque and rock performances — isn't going anyway soon anyway.

David P. Ball/Metro

"It's important that we do whatever we can to make sure the Rio doesn't get torn down and developed," she said. In putting the 1938 building on the market, its owner Leonard Schein — former owner of Fifth Avenue Cinemas — offered Lea the chance to buy it at "market value."

"Our landlord is someone who supports the arts," she said. "At least we have that going for us, he understands how important theatres are."

But it won't come cheap. According to B.C. Assessment, property is worth $4 million, a nearly 14 per cent increase from last year. The community health building across the street is valued at $36 million, and the Rio's adjacent property is worth $12 million.

According to a real estate document from Los Angeles-based realty firm CBRE, which bills itself online as "the largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world," the company "is pleased to offer the opportunity to acquire a 6,350 sq. ft. development site with opportunity to assemble on 1660 East Broadway, more notably known as the Rio Theatre."

The property is zoned for up to 10-storeys at a floor-space ration of 4.0. The company said the land is a promising spot for a land assembly, potentially allowing for a much larger mixed-use development across the street from the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station.

"(It) is in an ideal position for a development assembly with the adjacent properties," CBRE stated. "… The City will consider applications for additional density and height for the Rio Theatre."

Corinne Lea runs the Rio Theatre. The building is up for sale, but Lea is hopeful the movie theatre and performance space can be saved.

Jen St. Denis

Corinne Lea runs the Rio Theatre. The building is up for sale, but Lea is hopeful the movie theatre and performance space can be saved.

On Jan. 1, Lea posted to Facebook thanking her patrons for "record high sales for December" and adding that "the Rio is thriving … it makes me so happy to see people coming out to see indie films and supporting local performers."

It's not the first time Lea has fought for the institution's survival. In 2012, she spearheaded a battle with the provincial government over liquor regulations barring the venue from holding all-ages screenings if it also held liquor serving permits for other events. Eventually the B.C. Liberals launched liquor law reforms allowing alcohol in a variety of new venues, including theatres.

And she's further rallied public support to restore the historic sign by having backers sponsor each light bulb.

"I definitely feel that the community's behind us, for sure."

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