Tue | Aug 20, 2019

Worries at the Ward - Cash strapped managers of historic theatre beg for financial help amid fears that they are being sidelined

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
The iconic Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston.

Facing a growing mountain of debt and seemingly being sidelined from the latest renovation plans, the Ward Theatre Foundation is worried over the future of the historic venue.

Vivian Crawford, head of the foundation, recently outlined its precarious financial position and begged for help in a letter to Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports Olivia 'Babsy' Grange.

In the letter, Crawford said that creditors were banging down its doors, utility companies were threatening to disconnect services, while staff were unpaid as the foundation struggled with a debt of $5.23 million.

The Sunday Gleaner has since confirmed that the debt has grown to just over $6.1 million at the end of last month.

Crawford told Grange in the letter that "the Ward Theatre Foundation currently employs eight staff members for the upkeep of the (theatre) and the 74 King Street premises, for which the Ward Theatre Foundation has signed a lease for 53 years.

"Through the kind help of Dr Jonathan Greenland, (who) approached the Chase Fund, which has been the foundation's major contributor to cover operational expenses since May 2011 to August 2017.

"Through the kind assistance of former Mayor Desmond McKenzie, in July 2007 (the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation) had agreed to assist the foundation with $200,000 monthly based on the availability of funds towards the upkeep of the building.

"This was discontinued without notice in January 2009. The contribution was then resumed in April 2015 based on availability of funds from the KSAC."

According to Crawford, it is projected to cost just over $695,000 each month to keep the foundation's operations running, and this has become a "very stressful and difficult situation".

Crawford added that efforts to get the expected monthly stipend from the municipal body in recent months have been unsuccessful as the foundation is usually told that it has no money.

He said that the municipal body has also failed to renew a 1986 agreement under which it offered assistance "by repairing, restoring, and maintaining the Ward Theatre in keeping with its memorandum of association".




The foundation's chairman said that under the leadership of Mayor Delroy Williams, the municipal body, last April, started renovation work at the theatre, which was also named the National Labour Day Project for the year.

"At no time were any of the directors of the Ward Theatre Foundation part of the planning. On the day of the event, despite not being told about the event, some directors came to give their support. However, they were prevented from entering the administrative office at the Ward by members of the Jamaica Defence Force, (who) said that the area in the office was sanitised," charged Crawford.

He claimed that it was only after several conversations that members of the foundation were allowed to enter the office.

Crawford further charged that the foundation to date has not been advised in writing by Williams and his team as to who the contractors and project managers are for the renovation work, which started in April 2017.

"Visitors, both local and international, have been visiting the theatre on a regular basis, knowing the theatre is currently undergoing renovation, to get pictures and to offer their help whether in the form of donations through fundraising, performances, monetary contributions, etc. They want to see the dressing rooms, etc, but these are closed by whomever is responsible for works," charged Crawford.

The Ward Theatre Foundation has been managing and restoring the iconic building since 1986 when a group of volunteers led by Donald E. Banks decided to take on the task.

The foundation has as its mandate to develop a long-term plan to assist tin improving and maintaining the Ward Theatre and its environment and developing the civic, social, and cultural activities, which must complement the physical rehabilitation.

Declared a National Monument by the Jamaica National Heritage trust in November 1999, the theatre, one of the jewels in the island's cultural crown, had its roof and other major areas partially destroyed by Hurricane Dean in August 2007. The destruction left it unfit for use since.

Under former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, through a grant from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, $20 million was given to the foundation to replace the roof and stage, eradicate termites, and paint the refurbished areas.

Contributions were also provided by the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports and the Prince Charles Fund.

Ward Theatre Foundation debts at April 2018

Staff salaries (Sept 2017-April 2018) $3,213,287.63

National Insurance Scheme $274,176.84

Education Tax $1,171,153.59

National Housing Trust $288,211.30

Income Tax $853,191.80

National Land Agency $12,000.00

Companies Office of Jamaica $48,752.50

Jamaica Fire Equipment $25,594.62

An engineering company $99,000.00

Jamaica Public Service Company $110,649.95

National Water Commission $25,189.26

TOTAL $6.12 million