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March 1997 Volume 16 Number 4
MUSEUM CLOSED, CONVERTED INTO CINEPLEX
by Tom Nunn and Philip Jalsevac
Seagram will close its Waterloo museum next month to make way for an eight-screen Cineplex Odeon movie theatre that will occupy the historic building.
Cineplex Odeon says the $4-million-plus project will create a 1,320-seat complex, and Seagram hopes the move will spark development of its 4.6-hectare (11.5-acre) site in the city core.
The scheduled opening is about a year from now, Robert Tokio, executive vice-president of Cineplex Odeon Corp., told a news conference Wednesday. The museum's exterior will be retained as well as most historic features of the interior of the original building.
A dozen full-time staff and about eight part-time employees will lose their jobs when the 12-year-old museum closes March 27.
Before any development proceeds, a five-player agreement must be reached involving the city, Cineplex Odeon, Seagram, a developer and the non-profit Seagram Museum organization, which owns the museum and its property at Erb and Caroline streets. Six screens will be placed inside the museum structure, and a 5,500-square-foot addition will be built at the rear to house another two screens.
Gabor Jellinek, chairman of both the museum's foundation and the board of Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, flew in from Montreal for the news conference. "I'm sorry it had to happen," he said of the closure of the museum, the largest of its type in the world and "the only one of any significance" in displaying the history of distilling alcohol.
Jellinek said museum attendance has fallen to about 60,000 visitors a year compared to a peak of 170,000 shortly after it opened in 1984. Renovating the museum cost Seagram about $5 million, and the distilling company has funded the non-profit organization at a cost of more than $1 million annually.
Tokio said it's virtually "a certainty" that a developer will want to create more than a cinema. Possibilities include specialty outlets such as music and bookstores, a restaurant, sportswear shop and other outlets geared to the entertainment, recreation and culture market, Tokio said.
Toronto-based Cineplex, with $500 million a year in revenues, is the largest theatre operator in Canada. It is 22 per cent owned by Charles Bronfman and a family trust and 42 per cent owned by Universal Studios Inc., which, in turn, is 80 per cent owned by Seagram, Tokio said.
Cineplex already has theatres in Kitchener and Cambridge, but it needed a presence in Waterloo, particularly one that would appeal to its considerable university student population, he said. Seagram officials are still discussing what will happen to the museum's current collections, library and archives. The former distillery that surrounded the museum, now mostly vacant land, closed in May 1991.