For supporters of Café Cleopatre and the heritage of Montreal’s historic Red Light District, Christmas may come early this year and I’m not talking about the Glam Gam holiday show that wrapped up last weekend, either. Angus head Christian Yaccarini confirmed to Cyberpresse that he may just throw in the towel and give up on his company’s ongoing attempt to expropriate the legendary burlesque, drag and fetish performance space and downstairs strip club.
For several years, Yaccarini’s Société de développement Angus (SDA), with the full blessing and encouragement of Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay and his administration, has been buying up spots on St-Laurent boulevard between St-Catherine and the Monument Nationale theatre and leaving them vacant, creating a virtual ghost town around the lone holdout Cleopatre. They hope to raize the area and replace what was recently a thriving community experiencing a rebirth with a giant skyscraper to house Hydro Quebec offices.
Meanwhile, a coalition of artists, historians, academics and residents have been fighting this plan tooth and nail in the media, at City Hall, at the Office de consultation public and recently in the courts. It’s this case brought by Cleo owner Johnny Zoumboulakis that may finally break Yaccarini’s stubbornness on the matter. He argued that it might just not be worth it to keep paying legal fees when, as he put it in French, “Cleo’s lawyers just don’t want to come to an agreement.”
If Angus does decide to stop fighting, it would be a decision “with heavy consequences for the lower Main” as Cyberpresse put it, but only because of the situation Angus created all around the Cleo. Even when a group of artists endorsed by the Quartier des spectacles put up graffiti art over the boarded-up buildings, Angus had it painted over a few months later, destroying an attempt to bring life back to the block.
Now (if they drop the case), Yaccarini and company will have to decide what to do with the lots they do own. Maybe they could adopt a plan put forward at last May’s Petcha Kutcha night all about the Main: one that would see a living tribute to the area’s burlesque past. This plan was heavily cited in the booklet put out by those responsible for the event (though with no mention of the Cleo). Or maybe they could just pass the project on to another developer, one with more knowledge of what the area needs (ie. not an office tower in the heart of an entertainment district).
Maybe the city could force Angus to do the right thing, but given the fact that the Tremblay administration is heavily involved in this disaster and even handpicked the developer, ignoring his criminal past, that doesn’t seem very likely. That might not matter, though, because if people working together to stand up to him can (eventually) get Yaccarini to change his mind, maybe people working together can make the city adopt their plan.