Palace Grand Theatre closed for renovations in 2016

Dawson City’s Palace Grand Theatre will be closed for the entire 2016 season to allow for major repairs and renovations.

Dawson City’s Palace Grand Theatre will be closed for the entire 2016 season to allow for major repairs and renovations.

The theatre’s heating and ventilating system, fire suppression and lighting will all be replaced for the first time since the building was reconstructed in 1961. The foundation of the theatre will also be stabilized against melting permafrost.

Parks Canada will also upgrade the theatre’s “stage backdrops, foyer equipment, sound systems and other stage equipment,” according to an email from spokesperson Maria Stella Patera.

“These upgrades will bring the now obsolete system to reflect contemporary building standards, while respecting the historical character of the building,” Patera wrote.

The renovations are part of a $13.7-million commitment to refurbish Parks Canada historic sites in the Yukon, announced last July. A total of $3.8 million was allocated to the Palace Grand.

The Palace Grand brings in about $22,000 in revenue each year, Patera wrote. She added that “Parks Canada is developing new interpretive programming for 2016 that will temporarily replace the current Palace Grand.”

Still, the closure means a number of high-profile events will have to find new venues this year.

Allan Lucier, executive assistant for Commissioner Doug Phillips, said the commissioner’s office is starting to look at options to replace the annual Commissioner’s Ball, which usually takes place at the Palace Grand in June.

He said the office heard last summer that there were plans for renovations to the theatre. But he didn’t realize the theatre would be closed all year until Parks Canada announced it just before Christmas.

He said he expects the office to come up with an alternate plan by mid-February.

“There are lots of options,” he said. “Maybe not one that makes it look exactly like a ball.”

He said Dawson’s Odd Fellows Hall is a possible venue, though it’s significantly smaller than the Palace Grand and might be too warm for a ball.

An outdoor barbecue is another possibility. Lucier said that could be cheaper to organize than the annual ball, which typically costs about $20,000. It could also be cheaper to attend – tickets to the ball now cost about $75 each.

Lucier said the annual Commissioner’s Tea at the Commissioner’s Residence in Dawson will take place as usual.

The Palace Grand is also one of the larger stages used during the Dawson City Music Festival.

Emily Farrell, the festival’s executive director, said the closure is “disappointing,” but she understands that the work needs to be done.

She said the festival’s Thursday night kick-off concert, which usually takes place at the Palace Grand, will likely be cancelled. But otherwise, she said, the festival “will be offering the same amount of programming and musicians.”

She said organizers are considering adding programming to some of the festival’s smaller venues, including the Odd Fellows Hall. They may also add some more small venues for daytime programming. They hope to divide up the 300 people that can fit into the Palace Grand among some of those smaller stages.

Farrell said there isn’t a suitable alternate venue that’s the same size as the Palace Grand. She said school gyms and arenas might hold 300 people, but they have terrible acoustics.

“Obviously, you can’t replace the look and the atmosphere of the Palace Grand.”

Despite the change of plans, Farrell said the festival is still offering the same number of weekend passes.

Patera said Parks Canada is “committed to working with community groups and annual event organizers to find alternative venue locations for the 2016 season.”

The theatre is expected to reopen for the 2017 season.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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