The Strand Theatre in Brandon has been vacant now for a while. For a number of years it was one of Brandon’s only 2 movie theatres along with the Towne Cinema down on eighth. With the opening of the Capitol Theatre by the Shopper’s Mall and its later expansion, the Strand was eventually closed and has sat unused ever since.
A few years ago Landmark Cinemas, owner of the building, agreed to sell the property to The Brandon Folk Music and Arts Society to develop it into a new arts hub for live performances. I have been a proponent of the idea for a few years, but it seems that the plan brought forth by the group is not catching the public’s attention. It has languished for years now. Shaun Cameron, regular columnist for the Brandon Sun wrote a piece last weekend urging for a renewed effort, and perhaps a separation from the Arts Society. A repost can be found at his blog.
This got me to start thinking about that whole block, and the surrounding area. There has been a lot of change down there in the last few years. The YMCA moved in to its new facility over a year ago; some kinks had to be worked out, but it is an excellent facility. The Kristopher Campbell Memorial Skate Plaza is a popular gathering place for city boarders in a spot that since 1980 had been a gravel parking lot. The Brandon Inn, its best days long behind it, has been torn down after being condemned and then inherited by the city. Thunderbird Bowl moved out of its old location underneath the parking lot at 10th and Princess, and the Brown Block immediately beside the Strand has been demolished after collapsing a few years back. Even the Brandon Real Estate Board moved out of their building so that a large block of land immediately south and southeast of the Strand are now vacant. The Thunderbird lot is still there, as is a barber shop that was partially attached to the Brandon Inn. There is a fairly large lot now available for development. My feeling is that the whole area has been envisioned by someone for development that would compliment the Strand project if it ever gets going. I have thought over the years what the possibilities could be for such an area.
The fist thing that I wonder is whether or not the Strand’s main entrance and a second marquis could be built on the south side where the Brown Block used to stand. There is presently a structure there that holds the strands south wall up that it used to share with the other building. Perhaps a new modern atrium could be built in this area that would provide the necessary structural support for the original building, and provide more room in the winter for patrons to gather before and after a show. It would also connect the Strand to a new outdoor park that would encompass the entire south end of the block. What I see in my head is an outdoor summer concert bowl that shares the Strand’s facilities for offices, dressing rooms, and other amenities, while providing a permanent stage for events such as the Folk Festival and hopefully, if it continues, BUSU’s Rock the Block festival in September. This new facility would serve as a new “city square” where a multitude of other events and concerts could be held. I would also reverse the direction of traffic on 9th street so that it was one way going north between Princess and Pacific avenues. During an event, there would be gates south of the Skate Plaza on 9th that would close, and on Princess between 9th and 10th. Eastbound traffic on princess would be directed north on 9th. This way, Princess Park, the Skate Plaza, and the Concert Bowl could be treated as one big property during larger events. The last thing I would want to see is a nice brick and iron fence along Princess and 9th streets that would keep pedestrians out of traffic and avoid a tragedy like we had a few years ago during an event in Princess Park. At the time I thought that it would have been a good use of reclaimed brick from the Brandon Inn to build such a fence at minimal cost.
I have no idea if any of this has any chance of ever happening, and I obviously do not have the capital to pursue such a project, however, if an idea is never suggested, it can never be acted upon. That is all this is, an idea of what could be possible. I’m not saying we should do it, just that we could. I am in total agreement with Mr. Cameron, the Strand project is a good idea for this community. It can be the start of a re-birth of downtown if done right. Downtown will be healthy and vibrant if we transition it to a residential and arts district.
Do this right, and people will want to be downtown.