Disappointed but not surprised

Independent theatre operators respond to liquor law amendments

Independent theatres, like Cinematheque, say new liquor law amendments favour large movie chains. Dylan Hewlett

Local independent theatre operators say they are disappointed but not surprised they have been excluded from recent liquor law amendments that will allow a large theatre chain to serve alcohol to moviegoers.

On Jan. 12, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission announced changes to the Liquor Control Act that will allow Cineplex Entertainment to serve alcohol in three new VIP theatres it plans to build in the city later this year.

“It’s just disappointing, that’s all, and we will keep trying,” said Kristy Muckosky, operations manager of Cinematheque.

Muckosky said she has frequently tried to get a liquor licence for Cinematheque events. Those efforts, however, have been mired in red tape and a revolving door of reasons that have killed her applications.

“One (reason) was that we didn’t own the building,” she said. “Another reason was that if they gave us the licence, it would open a can of worms because all the other theatres would want licences.

“Which is funny, because now that’s the case.”

The ability to serve and be served alcohol is a popular request of those who rent the theatre for events and those who attend, Muckosky said.

The ability to do so would give the theatre a new revenue stream, she said, adding the theatre’s target market are those over 40 who want to watch a film, have a panel discussion and drink a glass of wine.

“If we’re offering something educational and entertaining, why can’t people enjoy a glass of wine?” she said. “How is it different than going to PTE (Prairie Theatre Exchange) - they have a film screen and they have a licence.

“I think it’s a perception of what we do and not being knowledgeable about we do,” she said.

According to the MLCC, the amendment allows a movie theatre complex to apply for a spectator activities licence, which was previously only issued to venues providing live theatre or music, exhibitions, and events promoting tourism, culture or sport.

Under the amendments, theatre complexes must have at least two theatres with a minimum of 75 permanent seats in each to be granted a licence. Only 50 per cent of the theatres can be licensed.

According to media reports, Cineplex plans to spend $4.5 million renovating its Kenaston Boulevard and McGillivray Boulevard location to include three licensed auditoriums along with eight regular ones.

Cineplex operates the three major theatres in the city - SilverCity Polo Park, SilverCity St. Vital and Famous Players at Kildonan Place. It also operates the Cinema City at Northgate Mall.

Susan Harrison, MLCC communications coordinator, cited the province’s hospitality strategy for the changes.

The strategy was drafted to bring hospitality opportunities to the province, promote safety in licensed premises, address underage drinking and reduce red tape, she said.

Changes thus far have included, among others, the creation of Liquor Mart express stores, new ID requirements and staggered liquor licence renewal dates.

Cineplex approached the province about introducing the concept, which it first launched in Ontario in the early 2000s, she said.

“The intent of the regulation change wasn’t to open all movie theatres for licensing, but to allow for a unique hospitality concept to come to the province,” Harrison said.

Cineplex opened two more VIP theatres in Ontario in 2008, and opened a fourth, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Dec. 19. According to a CBC report, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) also made changes to its rules to make the concept work.

In August 2011, the AGCO lifted all restrictions on the types of businesses that could apply for a liquor sales licence.

Another reason was that if they gave us the licence, it would open a can of worms because all the other theatres would want licences. Which is funny, because now that’s the case.

Kristy Muckosky, operations manager, Cinematheque

However, Harrison said it is unlikely the MLCC amendments will expand to include small theatre operators because of the way the regulations were crafted.

“We don’t want to take options away for people who want to attend a movie without alcohol being (served),” she said.

Like other licensed businesses, licensed theatres will be open to a liquor inspection at any time, she added.

Tim Spring, coordinator for the Ellice Cafe and Theatre, said the amendments should apply to all theatres, even if he would not apply for a licence himself.

“I think people should be able to enjoy a beer while watching a movie, but, for us, it’s a non-issue,” he said, noting the theatre is an enterprise of New Life Ministries, which doesn’t want to compound addiction issues in the West End.

“Give smaller businesses and shops the same opportunities. I’m sure it will be cash generating. Too bad it’s just for the big guys.”

Tory MLCC critic Ron Schuler said he has yet to question the MLCC on the new regulations before the public accounts committee.

“My question is: how did they come up with the regulations?” Schuler said. “Why do they need to have 75 seats? Because this is very new, certainly we would like to ask (the MLCC) what the long-term plan is and perhaps (if it will include) other venues.”

Under law, the public accounts committee first meets on the third Wednesday of every second month of the year. The committee was last scheduled to meet in December and will meet again in February.

Published in Volume 66, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 25, 2012)

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