Council hears multi-pronged courthouse proposal

ARICHAT: Largely vacant for the past decade, the 170-year-old Arichat courthouse will become a hub for Isle Madame’s tourism, arts and culture prospects if a local entrepreneur has her way.

Lisa Boudreau arrived at last week’s regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council with a four-part plan to overhaul the courthouse, which currently houses the offices of Development Isle Madame Association (DIMA) but has not held provincial court hearings since early 2009 and lost its sole rent-paying tenant this past spring when the provincial government announced the closure of Arichat’s Land Registry office.

Boudreau’s concepts include the construction of four accommodations units to be known as “The Jailbird B&B,” an exhibit art gallery in the downstairs area, the overhaul of four vacant upstairs rooms as juried artist studios, and the redesign of the main court facility to host a nightly musical dinner theatre during the spring, summer and fall, with the production to be known as “The Court’s In Session.”

“The theatre [production] would actually talk about the purpose of the building in the first place,” she explained.

“It would be an absolute first-class show… The few people I have told about this project have become pretty animated, right away.”

Although Boudreau is the chair of the Isle Madame Tourism and Trade Association (IMTTA), she did not represent the organization while making her pitch to Richmond council. However, Boudreau is planning to enter formal discussions with the IMTTA regarding the funding application process for this endeavour, and she told last week’s council meeting that officials with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) have shown some early interest in the project.

“When I was speaking to our ACOA rep here, she was pretty sure that ACOA would put money into a project like this,” Boudreau reported. “So it could be a stand-alone tourism project.”

Should the courthouse overhaul advance, Boudreau predicted that the project could “probably” be ready by 2019 and possibly as early as 2018, filling a void in Richmond County’s overall arts, culture and tourism strategy.

“Anyone who’s coming to visit Cape Breton who’s looking for art is not coming this way,” Boudreau declared.

“They’re going towards Cheticamp and around Ingonish, where all the fabric workers are, the wood workers are, the potters are, the glass-blowers are – you name it. They’re being pushed in that direction, so that’s why they’re not coming to Richmond County.”

While Boudreau’s concept drew interest around the council table, Isle Madame councillor James Goyetche raised concerns with the proposed dinner-theatre admission fee of $65, suggesting that it was more likely to draw tourist traffic than encourage local support of the production.

“I think there are people from Richmond County who would pay $65 to see a show, although they might not be there every day,” Boudreau responded, noting that a similar production at the Acadiaville Community Centre in West Arichat had drawn steady crowds despite a ticket price of $50.