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Breakspear is new Centre ED

No announcement on new home for Centre 'imminent'

NEW HEAD, NEW NAME. Jennifer Breakspear, The Centre's new ED, reveals the organization will rebrand itself under a new name, set to be announced in October. Credit: Xtra West files

Jennifer Breakspear is the new executive director of The Centre effective Aug 1.

Breakspear, who served as The Centre’s interim executive director after the board terminated Michael Harding seven months ago, was among four people interviewed for the position.

The Centre’s co-chair, Craig Maynard cites Breakspear’s experience with the organization’s operations, her previous service as a board member, her knowledge of the community both in Vancouver and Ottawa, and her education and employment background as the criteria that made her the best fit for the position.

Maynard says Breakspear has been given a series of mandates, including attendance at an executive directors’ summit in Las Vegas in mid-October, hosted by CenterLink, a US-based network of queer centres.

Breakspear says the goal is to learn the best practices of community centres in the US who have had similar experiences and challenges regarding fundraising and securing new facilities.

While Maynard says he feels Vancouver’s gay community centre is “up to speed” at its current size, the organization has to be prepared to operate out of a new facility.

To do that, he elaborates, the board must know what its responsibilities are, and the organization must be able to carry out its programs while ensuring that new programs can be added in.

The administrative side also has to be “ramped up,” he continues, which means securing a larger staff, more volunteers, more donors and eventually kicking off a capital campaign to finance a new space over the next six to 12 months.

“We will need to speak to what a capital campaign is all about probably over that period of time,” Maynard says, pointing out that The Centre has never undertaken such a campaign before.

But Maynard says there have also been discussions with the city about obtaining a new property through its amenity bonus program in which a developer is allowed to exceed the city’s density limits in a development in return for providing space for public amenities like cultural facilities, parks, schools and social housing.

Maynard says the amount of money that needs to be raised through an amenities bonus program is significantly less than what would need to be raised in a capital campaign for purchasing a property and building a structure on it.

“The board is not actively walking around looking for a site,” says Maynard, “but we’ve let it be known that we’re interested in either amenity bonus program type situations, or if somebody wanted to donate [a property].”

Any non-profit would pick the amenity bonus program first, Maynard adds, noting that building a new structure for The Centre is the most expensive option.

“Are we further ahead on a capital campaign? The answer is no. Are we further ahead on an amenity bonus program? I’d say the answer is yes,” he reveals.

Maynard still won’t identify potential locations for a new Centre except to say that discussions with the city on two sites — “one more active than the other” — are ongoing.

“So the same properties I won’t tell you about are still being pursued,” he says. “The main point is that we don’t think any discussion or any announcements are imminent at this point.”

Mayor Sam Sullivan told Xtra West in June that the old Shell gas station site at Burrard and Davie Sts was a site that had been identified.

“I know Michael Harding had at the time initiated that. I don’t know if the new management has pursued that but I could certainly look into it,” Sullivan said then, adding that “the last I had heard it was going ahead.”

“I think because there was a change in direction, there was a little bit of an interruption there,” Sullivan continued. “But I believe a lot of the work that he did to initiate that relationship on Burrard and Davie, I believe it’s moving forward.

“I am looking forward to an accessible centre [at Burrard and Davie]… if I’m still correct that that’s being discussed.”

For her part, Breakspear says she continues to speak about a location with the city, which is “looking at a number of possibilities in the West End.”

In the meantime, she adds, a big part of her job is going after more fundraising just for The Centre’s day-to-day operations.

“We’re stretched insofar as what we can deliver with the funding we’ve got,” she says.

Breakspear also reveals that a new name for The Centre, part of an overall rebranding initiative, will be unveiled at the organization’s National Coming Out Day event scheduled for October.