Pandemic-battered Palace Theatre seeks loan forgiveness from council

The Palace Theatre in London, Ont. is seeking financial relief from city hall as it raises the curtain after months of pandemic dormancy.

In a letter to his council colleagues, Ward 4 Councillor Jesse Helmer asks that the city forgive the $78,750 still owing on a loan provided to the London Community Players (Palace Theatre) in 2015.

“The pandemic started and they were in a tough spot right away,” Helmer told the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee on Tuesday. “They’re starting to get back up on their feet, and I think now is the time that it would help them as they start to incur more costs as they start to reopen the theatre.”

The $100,000 interest-free loan was provided by council to repair the historic theatre after it suffered significant water damage.

The city treasurer told council that there would be enough in the projected 2021 surplus at city hall to repay the loan.

But several councillors argued the decision should be made when they have a better picture of city hall’s finances during budget deliberations this December.

“I think this is most appropriately dealt with through the budget process because there are going to be many other asks for that surplus that’s sitting there,” said Councillor Shawn Lewis.

“I’m concerned with the issue of fairness,” added Councillor Steve Lehman. “As mentioned, there are a large number of other loans outstanding.”

“This is something very different from all the other CIP [Community Improvement Plan] loans we put out there, so to me this is a one-off,” countered Councillor Michael Van Holst.

Helmer added that making a decision now, rather than during budget season, would have additional benefits for the Palace Theatre and its team of dedicated volunteers.

“I think just relieving the reporting and payment burden on finance staff and The Palace, there’s value in that,” he explained.

The committee voted 8-6 to recommend forgiving the loan.

Afterwards, Mayor Ed Holder suggested the close vote may spark another debate at the next council meeting.

“Not that they aren’t worthy,” said Holder. “But it should be brought into the multi-year budget so that you can look at the impacts of it and there may well be other requests because of this.”

Council will make a final decision at its meeting on Oct. 5.