The Empire Strikes Back Update

The Empire Theatre in ruins

The following update on the status of The Empire Strikes Back initiative was recently updated by organizer Mikey Hulsmeier.

Hi All, I know it’s been long in coming but here goes.

In November of 2011 I asked for those interested in being a part of the restoration of the Empire Theatre to come to a meeting at the Boatyard on Bay Street. The primary reason I did this was because I had a meeting with Mr Jim McGowan of BEAT Foundation and found his proposal to be quite exciting and thought that the creative community and friends should have a look at it. I figured if we all got  on board it would show Government that we could unite for something positive and would be willing to work along with BEAT to have the Empire restored.

The plan was for Mr McGowan to come to the meeting and show his proposal and tell of his ideas…while in turn listening to some ideas that we may have. This did not materialize as Mr McGowan thought that my radical approach to creating awareness may jeopardize BEAT’s possible progress with The Ministry Of Culture to whom he had presented his proposal. The show of support at The Boatyard that day was very encouraging…. I think we had a great buzz going at that time and it is indeed unfortunate that Mr McGowan was not able to show his plan.

Anyway out of all the noise and agitation came a meeting with Minister Of Culture Stephen Lashley which was attended at short notice by Varia Williams, Adrian Boo Husbands and myself. After about 2 hours we came away feeling quite confident that the Minister and his Ministry were in agreement that the Empire should be restored and we were given the opportunity to either (a) present our own proposal within 4 weeks OR (b) join with one of the 2 proposals which had already been presented….those being BEAT’s and one to turn the place into a micro brewery. We were also told that we would not succeed with any proposal unless we could show where the money was gonna come from. So the idea of allowing us to have the building and THEN raise funds to restore it was not an option. In my mind this took us back to square one. BEAT already had a proposal which would benefit the artistic community….plans in place…financial backers…the works. So…what would be the point of trying to submit the same proposal when we could go over BEAT’s proposal and if in agreement with it we stand together with them and move forward.

There is no doubt in my mind that BEAT’s position looks way better with the support of the creative community than without it. Power in numbers. I did also meet with the other party involved…that of the micro brewery idea…to see if we could perhaps all work together….Everyone thought this could be an option but there was no real thrust to make it happen.

After coming to the realization that this whole shit was way more political than I was willing to deal with and also owing to some health concerns and lack of focus on my music I decided to drop the ball and step back from it all for a while. A lot of energy had been burned and I needed to regain it and come back fresh. It looks as though some decision will soon be made by Government on the future of The Empire Theatre and I think right now is our opportunity to get in motion and make something happen that will benefit us in the long run. It’s either BEAT or Micro Brewery.

I vote BEAT. Now is the time to meet and look at their proposal before it’s too late.

0 thoughts on “The Empire Strikes Back Update

  1. Mike Hulsmeier thank you for the vote of confidence in the BEAT TEAM, on behalf of the Trustees I can say that we are all looking forward to working with the creative community on this, all we need now is a YES from Cabinet and we are on our way!

  2. Here is the link to see the BEAT Foundation proposal, it has been in the public domain since last year shortly after BEAT submitted, feel free to take a look and share….

  3. Mikey, I apologize for not attending your meeting. I do want to let you and also members of the group know that Minister Stephen Lashley was in the papers and on radio on the day before the meeting advising his concern that the Empire Strikes Back group was mounting a negative campaign against government. This put me between a rock and a hard place. Attend the meeting or show respect for the Ministers position. My decision not to attend was a difficult one but it was ultimately driven by what I believed was be in the long term best interest of the EMPIRE, as having government support and approval was and STILL is required. Again, I apologize for not attending and hope that in the end it will have been the right decision even if it was not a popular one among those who took the time to attend.

  4. An area where the Arts community needs to improve is not only in coming together – recognising the adage united we stand divided we fall – there is the need to disseminate its vision/mission to ordinary Bajans (non Arts). The perception currently is one of the Arts people fighting their fight which lacks the mass support. The only way to make politicians take notice is when there is mass advocacy.

  5. Look at this it took one year for jim mcgowan to dispatch an apology for not attending the meeting you see that alone shows the disregard for others opinion in matters of these kind there seems to be no real consenus as to finding a solution but a grandstanding of control hinging on selfrighteousness among those involved the truth it seems that the best interest of the Empire is secondary and the only real presentation being shown to the public is one of selfinterest not going to work.

  6. @ David…you suggested “there is the need to disseminate its vision/mission to ordinary Bajans (non Arts)”. Please listen out on CBC news today, Dr. Anthony Carter..The Mighty Gabby….will be talking about the EMPIRE as a Trustee of BEAT Foundation.

  7. “Mikey, I apologize for not attending your meeting. I do want to let you and also members of the group know that Minister Stephen Lashley was in the papers and on radio on the day before the meeting advising his concern that the Empire Strikes Back group was mounting a negative campaign against government. This put me between a rock and a hard place. Attend the meeting or show respect for the Ministers position”

    I attended the meeting that is spoken about above by both Mikey and Jim…and it was indeed a well-attended meeting…and yes! creatives do get together…we don’t make a big fuss about it…but we are united at the end of the day as long as the unification has a rightful purpose. No sense getting our knickers and underpants in a twist over unimportant things. But Bills or decisions that will affect us, oh! yes! when the time is ripe we will unite in huge numbers, there is no doubt about that..

    Now I never heard anything about that meeting being a continuance of a negative campaign. Surely a meeting to understand a situation is not a negative campaign…it is what it is…people being allowed to air their opinions. Their real opinions. Attending the meeting in this instance would have done nothing more but give all an opportunity to hear about the BEAT proposal. You were to be a speaker Jim…not a ‘rabble-rouser’ setting off to a war with anyone. Geez. I wonder why you feel now that it is time to apologize but I guess you must know. What I know is what I noted. You were expected. We went. You were not there. We had the meeting. Came up with some solutions. And decided we would all try to ensure that the The Empire be renovated and if creatives had to do it by hand, we would. Simple ting. Nothing more. Nothing less. Over and done with. I just mentioned it as you did. Just for the record.

    Now re the above in general. Jim McGowan has been doing an amazing job at giving his case to creatives to vote for his proposal…and has openly shown this proposal to all and sundry and that is a good thing…the promises made within are certainly impressive…but…whether BEAT or Micro-Brewery?…well that is a matter surely to make a decision on, as Jim has been requesting we do, ONLY if we can peruse the proposals from both sides. No good asking the creative community, in my mind, to vote for a particular proposal unless we can have the opportunity of seeing both proposals…what if the proposed micro-brewery is the best proposal?

    The Empire Building as I understand it was either given or purchased by government. It, therefore, belongs as such to the people of Barbados, no matter what government is in power. it does not belong to a particular Minister or Ministry. It may come under that Minister or that Ministry’s portfolio that I do know. So that is the main point as I see it…perhaps I wrong…would not be the first time.

    One thing for sure…we ALL have fond memories of The Empire and I am sure would definitely like to see it back to its original imposing self, especially as it does come under the umbrella of the UNESCO Heritage Site of Bridgetown.

    I have always believed that should The Empire be given to anyone to renovate/work it should be there to serve the creative arts, meaning ALL creative arts and ALL those in the creative arts field. Why? Because The Empire was a people place, a theatre that had its beginnings in just that, theatre, as in plays, and went on to cinema and used for concerts et al on occasion.

    It would stand to reason surely that The Empire should be a place for creativity to continue its flow. A place where not only the history of the building could be shown but the visual arts would be in attendance at all times…with the outer yard being used as a place for contemplation amidst outdoor artworks…a state of the art stage would allow for theatre, concerts, dance. A multi-cultural place for all Barbadians…a place that visitors could come and enjoy any day of the week.

    At the end of the day what is best for the Empire building is what should count right? I understand BEAT wanting to show that they have numbers behind them…but surely this is not something one should just go for because it is Jim McGowan and we all love Jim McGowan and BEAT…surely a vote of confidence if it is going to make a difference should be on the best proposal.

    So David? Anyone? I ask again on this forum as I have asked on Facebook…is there a copy of the so-called micro-brewery proposal? Does this proposal even exist?

  8. @ David “Good stuff, get others onboard!”

    The following is a direct quote from the international news release link as posted above…all of the Trustees are very pleased this Father and Daughter…who happens to be very famous….have come on-board and are supportive 110 percent!

    “Restoration vision draws celebrity support-
    Ronald Fenty, father of Barbadian superstar Rihanna remembers the role the EMPIRE theatre played in his life growing up in Bridgetown. Father and daughter fully support the BEAT Barbados proposal to restore the theatre as a cornerstone to revitalizing the island’s entertainment district for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.
    “For generations, the EMPIRE was the cultural hub of our island and an important part of our heritage. It was a gathering place for entertainment of all kinds, and when I was young, we would never miss a Saturday matinee performance!” said Mr. Fenty. “Rihanna and I agree that the vision to restore the EMPIRE to its original glory and purpose would uplift Bridgetown and create a much needed home for entertainment on our island, and for the entire Caribbean.
    “Rihanna is behind the EMPIRE theatre restoration 110 per cent and I know she would be proud to take the stage on opening night,” he added.”

    PR Newswire (

  9. @Rosemary

    Have tried to get the micro brewery proposal in the past with no luck. In Barbados our culture is to hide information of public interest.


    Having Rihanna onboard is a plus for sure.

  10. @ David…some others who are on-board…..the board of Trustees now includes, Gabby, Emile Straker, Andrew Pilgrim, John MacKenzie, Guy Beauvais and my self. What this means is that the majority of votes on the board is held by 4 very prominent Barbadians who I believe the public knows well and will trust with stewardship and governance going forward….

  11. the comments in support of BEAT Foundation is all well and good but the Cabinets decision is final and it is not favourable to BEAT. its a SHOW ME THE MONEY thing and I understand BEAT left that side of its plan undeveloped.

  12. @ Oxford Direct….you seem to be speaking with authority on Cabinets decision so I can only presume you may have access and knowledge that BEAT is unaware of. Here are the facts as we know them.

    The Mighty Gabby and John MacKenzie delivered our final submission only yesterday which was the deadline the Minister gave for submission, and that submission does in fact clearly address the issue of SHOW ME THE MONEY.

    BEAT has put forward a strong case that includes prominent people on the team, access to the required funding…once we can obtain it legally with the approval of cabinet and a contract in hand, and the proposed use being a dedicated cultural hub and creative facility, in accordance with governments stated objectives and policies.

    BEAT was informed directly by Minster Stephen Lashley that we have to make a final presentation to the World Heritage Committee of our proposed drawings, which is required for the WHC to finalize their review and consultation process in order to submit their recommendations, which in turn will inform the preparation of the Cabinet paper on this matter.

    We are now waiting to be notified by the Ministry as to the time and place we can make this final presentation to the World Heritage Committee. So until that presentation has occurred the due process to prepare the cabinet paper will not have been completed according to the process Minister Stephen Lashley set out and put in place.

    Our board of Trustees is very willing to work in partnership with Government who in our view has laid the enabling groundwork for this opportunity by inviting proposals, securing the World Heritage Inscription, and making a commitment to the creative industry in their recent budget and seeking to put a Creative Industries Bill in place.

    Bottom Line….we anticipate that Cabinet will soon be in a position to make the decision and until that time….no one including Cabinet members can really know for sure the outcome….unless of course you have access and knowledge we do not…if so please share!

  13. Personnally i feel that since the Empire has beome a political football with no end in sight it should be gutted and just stand as a symbol of an time of what ” used to be” jusk like the historical buldings in rome thereby giving it a well deserved place in barbados,s history and not a history clouded in refurbishment and confusiion Empire deserves better and and should represent itself with ” true meaning” of an era goneby and not one of modern day decadance.

  14. For what it’s worth I have a vivid memory of the Pierhead Renewal Project published in a local newspaper in the early ’90s with a pull out section showing an artist’s impression of the entire area including the upgraded empire theatre.
    With all the cost overruns and wasted millions on contracts not properly scrutinized we could have found the funds to redevelop the city of Bridgetown as envisaged in that pierhead scenario;we are good at talking eh!Meanwhile Trinidad has more US owned yachts than it can handle berthed at Chagauramas,looking for a safe marina especially during the hurricane season.

  15. Empire Strikes back ?
    What the &^%!@%$ is this all about
    Is this some egomaniac seeking cheap publicity to satisfy some sort of morbid desire at fame of notoriety.

    Man Shove it

  16. ghee ! the way how it looks when all said and done they might even renamed the damned theatre. and we would have to get used to the words >>>>>>>>>>>>:formerly known as the EMPIRE. lets not get lost of the fact that wrapped up in this mess is MONEY! POWER! and GREED! fuh god sakes let the ordinary citizen voice be heard with their own proposals this is their country. .

  17. ac | November 1, 2012 at 1:01 PM |
    Personnally i feel that since the Empire has beome a political football with no end in sight it should be gutted and just stand as a symbol of an time of what ” used to be” jusk like the historical buldings in rome thereby giving it a well deserved place in barbados,s history and not a history clouded in refurbishment and confusiion Empire deserves better and and should represent itself with ” true meaning” of an era goneby and not one of modern day decadance.
    If the Empire really belongs to the government I am not holding out much hope that they will do anything soon about. Today we hear the Minister of Heritage and his disciples at the switching on ceremony patting himself on the back , yet again. But after a walk through Bridgetown yesterday, I am beginning to see why we have started a Bridgetown by night programme as certainly its not easy on the eye during the day.
    The Nightingale Nurses Home has been refurbished twice in 5 /6 years,first in 2007,and then in 2012, revealing that maintenance of government buildings as similar to that of Transport Board buses and SSA trucks. The old General Hospital compound is littered with abandoned buildings , many of which could be refurbished and save the Government millions of dollars renting office space from private enterprise.
    Not a stone throw from the Empire Cinema, is Wellington Street,and one wonders if the Member of Parliament for this area goes around there, as certainly the Sanitation Service Authority and the Health Inspectors do not.
    Sadly,like the people in living in the Bridgetown area, the Empire Cinema overhaul , is low on the government’s priority.

    • @Colonel Buggy

      Thanks for the pics, it shows how we really feel about these things. Lip service!


      The average Joe does not feel ‘no way’ about the Empire theatre. It will be left to interest groups to kickstart the project and drag along regular Bajans. By their everyday actions it is clear ordinary Bajans are clueless about this project.

  18. @ Jim McGowan

    Let me give it to plain and simple. The Minister is feeding you with a very very long spoon and you, like a simple Simon are sitting and taking the medicine as if its really going to save your life. Clearly you are clueless as to how Barbados works.

    You really believe that non-sense about you having to make a presentation to the World Heritage Committee, cause if you do, then you should be patiently sitting by the phone waiting for the call to notify you when the meeting has been arranged for. “Thanks ever so much, wait for a call” Stupse!!!

    The fact is that a grass roots movement was launched last year by people involved in the creative arts in Barbados to save the Empire Threatre. You snubbed them by not turning up to make your presentation when you had agreed so to do. People ventured from far and wide in the early hours of a Sunday morning to hear about your plans and you failed to show and now a year later you coming with some flimsy-ass excuse about a protest? Even Tamara Marshall, your wife or girlfriend was there, you however were NOT.


    Your proposal is dead not because its not a good one but because of you the person championing the cause. You are not even in the running for the restoration and resuscitation of the former Empire Theatre, trust me on that.

    Also who the hell is John McKenzie, the same one fired from Consolidated Finance and if yes, whats his track record with the creative arts in Barbados?

    Dr. Gabby is a Bee after he was a Dee and a former Cultural Ambassador making $10K a month. Stupse!!.

  19. I do understand what you are saying but it as if outside interest takes a foothold on these projects and the average bajans is shut out . most of the meetings are held behind closed doors away from public glare and scrunity when one knows better they do better .david i do not believe the average bajan does not have an interest the problem is that they are not being informed until the ink is dry.

    • @ac

      There is too much politics being played out with this matter and making it worse is the lack of cohesion by stakeholders. Like the other projects this will die unless someone takes it by the neck and make it happen. It does not matter who that person is, the job is to make it happen.

  20. This is one year since the ‘Empire struck back’ and we are no farther down the road to restoring the building. An awful eyesore it is! Not even an environmental clean up and sprucing up of the ruins to make it more appealing to the eyes. November 2013 will come and the position will remain the same with the dilapidated building and environmentally obnoxious site in worse shape.

    What a shame! Just talk, talk ,talk by a bunch of over-educated egotistical fools led by a tin pot dictatorial clown called a minister !
    Do something people, or tear it down and turn the spot into an arts and craft stand for the real indigenous ‘creatives’ not the peddlers of junk made in China and the Far East.

  21. Look all this hoopla is unnecessary the EMPIRE has history in its favour and there is where the foundation of refurbishment and restoration should start not with any single individual or individuals with a burning desire for fame and fortune but with a theme mainly focus designed to capture the aura of its history in the simplest possible way . all the other proposals are extreme taking the spotlight away from the EMPIRE

  22. Perhaps one of those moguls, or all , Al Barrack excluded, who have benefited tremendously through building houses for NHC, renting/leasing office space to Government, getting paid by BWA for a no supply, repairing Transport Board buses, supplying miles of Jersey Barriers, should be generous and plough back some of those millions into refurbishing the Empire Cinema as a thank you to the taxpayers of Barbados.

  23. David the proposals of making it happen has become burdensome and costly there is nothing wrong with removing the artifacts putting them in the museum and in the arear which house the structure maybe coming up with simple ideas that is less costly but can generate some revenue i meaning there are bajans with great ideas who can create a theme with specfic detail and entertainment outside the arena of the EMPIRE what is necessary is to recapture EMPIRE history in a way where people can relive it

  24. Oxford Direct | November 2, 2012 at 11:31 AM |
    @ Colonel Buggy
    Can you give us a list of names to call?
    Hang on a bit. You will get more that enough names when this election campaign gets in full swing.

  25. two days and counting and not a word from the movers and shakers involved in the EMPIRE project another reasons ordinary bajans show no interest one would have thought that this wold be an avenue for more frank and open discussion on the subject but NO! the socalled experts have packed up and closed shop leaving the ordinary citizen to speculate.,

  26. So. AC whoever you are, always interesting when responding to someone who is afraid to identify themselves. For your information and as you question my qualfications please note the following. I have been a brass player for over 40 years. Have performed in Massay Hall, The O’keefe Centre, was a music teacher at Ridley College, was one of four trumpet players in Canada to attend the Banff School of Fine Arts, have played in countless operas and ballets, have played in virtually every church of note in Barbados, played in the Barbados Chamber Orchestra for almost 20 years and am current head of brass and write all the charts for a local band called Brass Soul who you can come and hear on the 8th of December at Naru as you likely missed your chance last Friday.
    John MacKenzie

  27. John MacKenzie | November 6, 2012 at 4:36 PM |
    ………. was one of four trumpet players …….

  28. Jim Mackenzie was of interest to read your credentials in the field of arts however i find it most interesting that you as one of such notable credentials and as you purposed in your comment gleefully referenced to ones identity that you would have incorrectly referenced your comment to the wrong person.

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