The Bus Stop Theatre continues its drive to purchase its building as the July 2020 deadline looms. Photo by Mel Hattie.
The Bus Stop Theatre continues its drive to purchase its building as the July 2020 deadline looms. Photo by Mel Hattie.

With its July 2020 deadline to purchase its building and land looming, The Bus Stop Theatre Cooperative is not only looking for an injection of much-needed cash but is aiming to make your holiday shopping just a little bit easier this year.

As a non-profit, The Bus Stop Theatre Co-op’s mandate includes providing affordable services to its users. One of several fundraising activities they undertake each year is its annual basket auction. Now in its third year, it is a fundraiser executive director Sébastien Labelle says has proven to be particularly successful in more ways than one.

“Both in terms of raising funds and highlighting The Bus Stop Theatre community,” says Labelle, on the phone to provide both an update on the efforts to purchase the Gottingen Street location and talk about the upcoming fundraiser.

For those not familiar with the challenges facing The Bus Stop Theatre, the arts cooperative is looking to raise $1.2 million to purchase the building and land before a 2020 summer deadline. Miss the date and there is a good chance the building will be sold for redevelopment.

The co-op, who is relying largely on funding from the three levels of government for the purchase, recently received some good news in a conditional commitment of $250,000 from the Halifax Regional Council earlier this year.

“Those conditions included the delivery of a feasibility study, a building inspection, environmental site assessment, budgetary projections for operations, and buy-in from the other two government levels,” says Labelle.

Already delivering on the required studies which have gone to city staff for review, a report will go back to the city council for final approval of its commitment in January. But here is where things get a little complicated as Labelle says there is a potential issue with funding from the federal government.

“In the case of Canadian Heritage, they tell us they can’t fund a project until 66% of the budget is already confirmed, and yet one of the other conditions the municipality set is to have the federal funding confirmed,” he explains.

Despite the catch-22, Labelle hopes when the report goes back to the council early next year, they will recognize the impossibility of the situation. “These are the kind of bureaucratic puzzle pieces that we’re trying to navigate,” he says.

As for a provincial injection of cash, Labelle says it too is a bit tricky as funds from the Province of Nova Scotia cannot be used to purchase the property.

“Their contribution can only be allocated towards renovation and construction,” he says. “So part of our new revised project includes the purchase of the current property and some renovations to the existing building.”

It is the combination of purchase and renovations where Labelle arrives at their initial goal of $1.2 million. Despite the bureaucracy still facing them, Labelle is optimistic. “The civil servants who work in the various departments and agencies that deal with arts and culture recognize the role that at The Bus Stop plays in the arts sector in the city and the community at large,” he says. “They are also concerned about the potential disappearance of this space as part of the city’s arts infrastructure, and as a community hub.”

Helping their case has been an outpouring of support from not only its members but the arts community at large who inundated the city with hundreds of letters before the local funding came to a vote.

Another tick in The Bus Stop’s favour has been how well utilized the facility has been, with some 150 events hosted at the venue in the past year alone. “In 2019, we declined over 220 days worth of rentals, which is significant,” says Labelle.

Another big push came recently with The Bus Stop receiving the inaugural Arts Nova Scotia Creative Community Impact Award. “There’s a financial prize attached to it, with the $10,000 immediately allocated towards our campaign,” says Labelle. “But the most significant help from the award is the recognition of The Bus Stop’s importance and impact on the community.”

As part of that initial goal of $1.2 million for the purchase and renovations, Labelle says they will need to raise a quarter-million through the private sector from organizations and individuals. “Out of that $250,000, we’ve raised roughly $120,000, so we’re almost halfway towards the objective.”

Only the first phase of what has now become a two-phase campaign, Labelle says once the purchase of the property is complete, they will begin raising funds to expand. “Right now, we’re just focusing on raising funds for the purchase of the property before July of 2020, which is when our lease expires, and our right of first refusal on the purchase,” he says. “Once we’ve crossed that bridge, then we’ll look at the possibility of a potential expansion of our facilities.”

"I feel hopeful given the strong case that we have for the importance of preserving this space, which was made quite evident both by testimony provided by supporters at The Bus Stop." - Sébastien Labelle, executive director of The Bus Stop Theatre Cooperative.
“I feel hopeful given the strong case that we have for the importance of preserving this space, which was made quite evident both by testimony provided by supporters at The Bus Stop.” – Sébastien Labelle, executive director of The Bus Stop Theatre Cooperative.

Given the utilization of the existing facility, Labelle says an expansion makes sense. “We know that if we had a second theatre of roughly the same size available, we’d be able to rent that out as well,” he says. “That remains part of our bigger vision, to not only make a pitch for preserving what we have but to also build on it eventually.”

Despite some daunting hurdles before finalizing the initial purchase in the coming months, Labelle remains positive. “I feel like we make a solid case, and in my conversations with those that I’ve spoken to so far lead me to be hopeful,” he says. “Of course, until I have something on paper, it’s hard to feel relaxed about it.”

While Labelle and his team continue to deal with these significant issues, there is still time for what he calls both a “fundraiser and fun-raiser” through its annual gift basket auction. “We ask all of our cooperative arts companies to assemble and donate a gift basket to put in the auction,” he explains. “It’s always fun to see how and what each of the organizations put together in their gift baskets.”

A case in point is the basket assembled by Zuppa Theatre Company. “Their name comes from the Italian for soup, so their basket is a slow cooker with ingredients for a soup and a cookbook,” explains Labelle. “But the best part of the prize is the theatre company will come to your house and cook the soup of your choice from the cookbook and serve it to you on a night of your choice.”

Another example comes from Halifax improv troupe Hello City, who are putting their services up for bid. “The winner of the basket can invite Hello City to a location of their choice to put on an improv show, whether it is someone’s house or workplace or even at the supermarket.”

But while the arts organizations have assembled some fun baskets and it all makes for an excuse for a party on December 1, Labelle says the fundraiser plays another vital role. “It’s also an entertaining way to promote the diversity of arts organizations and artists that exist in our city,” says Labelle. “And it’s an ideal way for people to learn who’s out there making art beyond Neptune in a space like The Bus Stop Theatre.”

Bidding for the baskets can be made on The Bus Stop Co-op Facebook page until 5:00 pm on December 1. The auction will culminate with a live event on December 1 at The Bus Stop Theatre, where final bids will also be taken. “It will also be a party to celebrate an incredible year at The Bus Stop Theatre, and all of the event organizers that have called The Bus Stop home throughout 2019,” concludes Labelle.

You can find out more online about the auction and party at thebusstoptheatre.org.