The historic Armond Theatre in downtown Cranbrook has been purchased by a group of three local investors, as the new ownership group hopes to return the iconic building to its former glory.
“Armond Theatre has been sitting vacant and dormant since 2000 and that’s long enough. I mean there’s not a lot of heritage infrastructure left standing in the downtown core and it’s really sad to see an old historical landmark like that just turning into King Tut’s tomb,” said Ferdy Belland, Managing Director of Armond Theatre and one of the three investors that purchased the property and took ownership on January 13th, 2020.
Originally opening in 1952 as a movie theatre, the building officially closed 20 years ago and has remained unused since, despite changing ownership multiple times. Now, Belland alongside his partners Spencer Kerr and Casey Wright, believes they have what it takes to restore one of Cranbrook’s most historic venues.
The group plans to transform the space into a multi-purpose community arts centre that could host live music, theatre performances, comedy shows, lectures and presentations, film festivals, weddings, graduation ceremonies, dance recitals, and more. Belland said the hope is that the Armond Theatre would be the perfect middle-ground venue between the smaller Studio Stage Door and the much larger Key City Theatre.
“We want to see the theatre getting reborn with the original 1940s Art Deco interior, with a nice gilded balcony overlooking the main dancefloor and we’d be able to hold private or public events which could hold anywhere from 200 to 400 people.”
As part of their Mission Statement, Belland said partnering alongside the Key City Theatre Society and Cranbrook Community Theatre is imperative as they want the Armond Theatre to be a supportive sibling entity to those other existing groups and facilities in Cranbrook.
“Not only would it add to downtown revitalization and to the cultural upsurge of Cranbrook but also to completely kickstart downtown nightlife and the ripple effect it would have to all of the downtown businesses would be immense,” Belland told MyEastKootenayNow.com.
The Armond Theatre has changed hands multiple times in the past 20 years, with most running into major renovation problems either with the necessary asbestos abatement, or structural issues with the building’s roof and walls. Belland called these issues the “big boogeyman” of previous owners but said their group isn’t phased by it since they are qualified, skilled and experienced tradespeople that have done similar work in the past, and that they are not an uninformed party that purchased the facility. Belland compares this project to the Fire Hall, where the historic Cranbrook Fire Hall had to go through some of the same structural issues to be built up to code and be converted into the restaurant and bar that it is today.
Breaking down the building’s revival in four phases, Phase One is complete through the groups’ purchase of the building this January. Phase Two will look at completing the necessary structural upgrades and hazardous-materials abatement to bring the Armond Theatre back up to modern building code requirements, while Phase Three will include interior renovations and planned installations. The final phase, Phase Four, will have the venue open to the general public. The group believes that could be as early as summer 2021 if everything falls into place, although they are aware that unknown issues may arise and push back the opening date indefinitely.
Regardless, Belland told MyEastKootenayNow.com that they have received amazing support for their purchase of the theatre and their hopes and dreams for the facility, whether that be from Cranbrook City Hall, the Downtown Business Association, or local arts community.
“Everybody has just been giving us nothing but surprised delight and a lot of positive encouragement and a lot of people are already coming out of the shadows to offer assistance with us and we’re definitely not taking that for granted.”
“We need to try, at the very least we need to try,” said Belland. “Cranbrook needs this, it’s a necessary component in the whole socio-economic scheme of things, it’s an important puzzle piece as far as rebuilding the downtown. With Cranbrook getting ready to explode also in the 2020s with population growth and with economic development going throughout the next few years, we definitely want the Armond Theatre to be part of it and we definitely want the Armond Theatre to assist with all of that.”