#SaveTheRio: How a community worked with Vancity to secure the future of this historic theatre

May 11 2018, 1:56 am

It’s rare to find a local theatre that’s as much a part of your favourite memories as your old polaroid photos from the ’90s. That’s what makes East Vancouver’s iconic Rio Theatre so special.

It’s been around since the 1930s, drawing in crowds from the community with independent feature films and documentary screenings. The Rio even served as a place of inspiration for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

So when news circulated that the theatre was facing potential demolishment, the theatre’s operators launched a petition in a bid to try and raise enough support to buy the art house building, located on Broadway and Commercial.

“When we first found out that the Rio was for sale, we had a petition that we put out and it got 22,000 signatures in five days,” says Corinne Lea, owner of the Rio Theatre. “People took the time to write a few words about what they love about the Rio, I printed all of them up and put them in a binder; some of them are so heartfelt and amazing.”

In order to buy the property, the Rio needs to raise a $3 million deposit, with the remaining balance to be raised by investors. So far, fundraising initiatives have included an online crowdfunding #SaveTheRio campaign which has generated $500,539 at the time of writing.

Saving the Rio

Before long, the #SaveTheRio campaign caught the attention of some well-known figures in the movie industry.

Director and Vancouver Film School alumni Kevin Smith, who stars in known for comedy hits such as Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy, reached out to the Rio to say that he would be happy to host a benefit screening.

Meanwhile, Vancouver-raised actor Ryan Reynolds sent out a tweet calling on others to support the “legendary” Rio, before going on to donate himself.

Securing a mortgage

Last week, Corinne Lea was overjoyed while announcing that the Rio had been approved for a mortgage. While it was later confirmed on the Rio’s website that the full deposit amount still needed to be raised, this was a huge milestone for the future of the venue.

When other financial institutions may have been cautious in a scenario like this, advisors at Vancity rolled up their sleeves and worked alongside the operators of the  Rio to find a creative solution and secure a mortgage that worked for them.

“We really had a strong belief in the Rio’s ability to raise funds from the public,” says Vancity account manager, Jenn Mcginn. “I was also impressed with how nimble Corinne was, and the entrepreneurship she’s demonstrated over time.”

“Some more conventional financial institutions might wait until everything was in place, but Vancity was willing to show flexibility and trust in them, and once it comes time to close the deal on July 7th, we have belief that the Rio will have all their ducks in a row by then,” Mcginn added.

Vancity feels that being close to the community allows them to better understand the risk than other financial institutions. The credit union understands the passion towards theatre in the city, and that when money comes from determined, hard-working, community-focused residents with a drive to succeed, the risk involved is reduced.

Working with Vancity

“It was a really positive experience working with Vancity. Because it’s a membership-based organization, you really feel like you’re part of it. When I shared the news that we had the mortgage approved on social media it went viral; so many people were writing comments and you really got the sense of pride, ownership, and community involvement [with Vancity],” said Lea.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing, and the owner and operator of the Rio acknowledges that they’re not out of the woods yet. “There were times when we were really struggling, so I’m sure [Vancity] had their moments when they were doubting whether or not we were going to last; I’m glad they had patience with us.”

Vancity’s Mcginn says the real estate market in the city can be “pretty prohibitive towards a lot of people, certainly not-for-profit organizations and small cultural businesses like the Rio.”

As a result, she thinks “financing can be out of reach for them.” However, she notes that if you’re “willing to have a really progressive financial partner and investors, as well as strong community support” all of those disparate elements can come together in a success story like this one.

“We are trying to help more and more real estate stay in the hands of local businesses and organizations, because we really see the importance of sustainability in that sector of small and local business owning properties. That’s why we were really excited to get behind this and help the Rio secure that property,” says Mcginn.

The future of the Rio

When asked about Vancity’s plans for the future of the theatre, Mcginn notes that they believe the Rio is on to a good thing and that Vancity supports their vision for the future. She says that everyone involved is excited about the partnership, and look forward to developing it further.

Meanwhile, Lea added that she feels the Rio has not reached it’s “ceiling” yet. “We’re a thriving successful business”. She’s looking forward to getting better at what they do and “coming up with more creative ideas” as they move forward.

For now, the future of a true Vancouver landmark seems bright and Corinne is grateful for the support she received from Vancity. “It really feels like they were rooting for me.”

For more information on creative mortgage solutions, visit Vancity.

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