It has become a regular ritual. Members of the Alberta Avenue Business Association’s street team clean up drug paraphernalia. They see remnants of fires that, hours before, had warmed people at temporary campsites.
This is the grounds of the old Avenue Theatre, which closed its doors in 2014. Its walls are covered in the works of some of the area’s most well-known spray-paint artists.
Jay Ball, the executive director of the AABA, believes that the theatre — which has shown movies, been a live venue and was even a skatepark over the previous six decades — needs to be brought back to life. He says he’s tried to reach out to the building’s owners to learn about their plans for the property. But no talks have been held. As the city deals with the opioid crisis, Ball says the building is right now one of the magnets for drug use in the neighbourhood.
“We want this to be ‘Opportunity Avenue,’ there are lots of things we can do with it,” he says. “We want this building to be of service to the community. But, right now. It’s doing a disservice to the community — it really is.”
He says Avenue is the largest unused building in the area.
“And the back of the theatre is being used by the homeless and marginalized communities,” says Ball. “My street team is picking up used needles and empty pill bottles.”
The building is owned by Frank Bowen, of Edmonton-based real-estate consulting service, Bowen and Associates. He did not respond to calls or e-mails requesting comment.
According to the bio posted on the Bowen and Associates site, “Frank was also influential in the Alberta Avenue business council. He was a major initial influence in the renewal of 118 Avenue, which is now a thriving artist community.”
Before local heavy-metal act Red Skull Ritual played the final show at Avenue Theatre before it closed its doors in May of 2014, the owners and management had posted a series of pledges to the community. These can still be found on the theatre’s website.
“By operating a multi-purpose venue, The Avenue Theatre supports the revitalization of Alberta Avenue, thereby improving the public image of our community.”
“Host arts-driven events that draw people to Alberta Avenue thereby displacing crime, improving the public image of our community and supporting the revitalization movement of our area.”
But Ball says that repeated attempts to initiate discussions with the owners have not been answered. “The property owners don’t engage with us.”
But, the AABA is getting many suggestions from the community on how the Avenue Theatre can become a linchpin of the community, from reopening it to arts groups, creating community spaces or even being a centre for wraparound social services. But, the Avenue Theatre is a privately owned building, so, there really is not much more the AABA and residents can do but offer suggestions.
Ball suggests that the owners could donate the building and land back to the community, which could garner a sizable tax receipt.