3 min

Big plans for The Centre

Negotiations with land owner underway

Credit: Xtra West files

Vancouver’s gay and lesbian centre has big plans to stay put and build big.

After years of community discussions about finding a new, more practical and aesthetically pleasing location, The Centre’s board of directors will stay and renovate its Davie and Bute headquarters.

But they’re not planning to simply tinker with the site. They’re planning for a four-storey facility with a major development of the programs and spaces available for queers.

“We really saw Davie and Bute as a key location,” says executive director Donna Wilson.

But The Centre’s plans rely on support from the California owners of the land where the building sits. The owners have tentatively agreed to give it to The Centre.

While city tax rolls don’t detail the value of The Centre’s address, the properties on the block range in value from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the low millions.

The Centre recently looked at renovating, moving or a combination of the two, Wilson says. But, she says, they decided to think big.

“We’re going to go for the gusto and look at the big vision that our communities have been talking about for many years,” Wilson says.

A pivotal point in the decision was VanCity’s request for proposals for the annual VanCity Awards of $1 million for community projects.

Out of more than 80 proposals to VanCity this year, Wilson says, The Centre’s was one of 11 shortlisted. They were invited to develop a full proposal. As the planning proceeded, Wilson called together community partners to see what input they had and to discuss collaboration on the big vision.

So, what is that vision?

“We’re expanding to a 20,000 square feet, four-floor building that would be multi-purpose, multi-use, recreational, arts and culture as well as social services or community resources, health resources and so on,” Wilson says.

And, in keeping with the vision for Davie Street, the building would have retail on the main floor, she says.

But, without a clear idea of what was happening with the gift of the land, the proposal to VanCity could not proceed this year and was not on the ballot for credit union members to vote on as a project.

So, cautions Wilson: “We’ve still got a long ways to go.”

The $1-million VanCity Award was established in 2001 by the company’s board to support the social, environmental and economic well-being of the community. The awards are available to non-profit organizations in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and Victoria.

Members of the credit union choose the winner by ballot.

VanCity spokesperson Sara Holland confirmed The Centre’s participation.

“Even if the finalist don’t win, they can apply again,” she says. “We strongly recommend that anyone with an exciting project submit.”

However, Wilson explains, The Centre is not yet sure what the price tag would be to realize the vision. More detailed planning is now required.

“The price of such a large vision is really quite dependent on what happens with the property,” she says.

The initial proposal to VanCity ballparked the project at about $3 million-if the property is gifted to The Centre in some way. The feedback they got from VanCity, though, suggested $5 million may be a more accurate tab.

“What we got from the VanCity committee was a lot of excitement, a lot of interest,” Wilson says. “One of their main points of concerns was that the property matter hadn’t been solved,” she says.

The board sees the Davie site as a hub for The Centre’s activities. But, says Wilson, with queer presence rising in all areas of the city, satellites are a real possibility, one in the Commercial Drive area being key. Negotiations are underway for a permanent presence on The Drive but Wilson won’t reveal details quite yet.

Relying on both professional staff and volunteers, The Centre provides support, health and social services, along with public education for the well-being of lesbians, gay men, transgendered and bisexual people and their allies in Vancouver and throughout BC.

It is home to the Prideline, Out On the Shelves community library, GAB Youth Services and the Generations Project. While the bulk of The Centre’s operations are from the Bute Street location, the Generations Project on gay history is in an office building near Davie and Burrard, while other services are operated out of Mosaic and the Britannia Centre on Commercial Dr.

The Centre is funded through the three levels of government but also through grants, foundations and community donations.

According to the organization’s literature, The Centre is committed to building pride and acceptance of diversity and to mitigating the impact of homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia and biphobia.