Councillor Josh Matlow

Inside Toronto: Saving Mount Pleasant’s ‘iconic’ movie theatres

March 7, 2012


Those in the Mount Pleasant area are hoping reports of the death of the indie cinema are greatly exaggerated.


A move is afoot to ensure the survival of the Regent and Mount Pleasant theatres, two of a dwindling number of small, independent screening movie theatres left in the city.


The Mount Pleasant BIA, local residents and councillor Josh Matlow are working together, looking for supporters who will help ensure the local landmarks – in particular the Regent – are not only saved but become more of a focal point within the community.


Matlow said he has long been interested in trying to keep the local indie cinemas alive, particularly given the struggles many such venues have faced with the advent of bigger multiplexes.


Despite opposition from residents across the city, several rep cinemas have been bought out and turned into retail outlets in recent years.


“Being aware that the Mount Pleasant and Regent are two of the few remaining small, independent cinemas in Toronto, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see what’s coming if we aren’t proactive,” he said.


Efforts are already underway to find a buyer for the Regent who would be interested in maintaining and perhaps expanding its current use. Matlow said he would like to see the venerable theatre used not only for film screenings but also for live performances if possible.


The councillor noted that, should the Regent add live shows, it would be a boon to the area.


“I could see the Mount Pleasant business area turning into a vibrant uptown theatre district,” he said. “It would be so good for the businesses (in the area) to have a lively theatre district, and what a remarkable opportunity for the local residents who use Mount Pleasant as their main street.”


He added that, with the upcoming underground Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT stopping at Mount Pleasant, it would make the area that much more accessible.


Mount Pleasant BIA coordinator Julie Federman said the whole streetscape would change should the historic cinemas be torn down or redeveloped but noted the sites need new energy in order to remain.


“These theatres are so important to maintaining the heritage of Mount Pleasant, but right now they’re not as productive for the community as they could be,” she said. “There’s so much potential there – they’re great spaces to be used and the Regent has huge potential for bringing performing arts to midtown and uptown Toronto.”


The Regent is currently used for evening film showings and as a private and digital screening venue by Theatre D Digital.


Carlos Herrera, a partner with Theatre D Digital, said the cinema’s current owner is reluctant to sell the space only to see it lose its current function.


“He had an offer and went to the councillor to see if there was a way to keep it as a theatre,” Herrera said. “He said, ‘is it possible, because it’s a historic building.'”


Herrera added he believes most potential buyers would likely want to tear the building down or renovate and repurpose it, given the current trend that sees movie-goers heading to large-screen cinemas to watch the latest releases.


“If somebody wants to keep it as a movie theatre, it will be tough,” he said.


Nonetheless, there is optimism a local resident or group will step forward and offer to keep one or both theatres operational in their current state or with enhanced programming.


Matlow is hopeful a deal can be brokered that will ensure the cinemas have a future along Mount Pleasant.


“I see them as iconic buildings, iconic entities that are reflective of our history,” Matlow said. “I’ve spoken with one potential buyer already and we’re looking to work something out.”


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