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City staff recommend $7 million to new centre for Qmunity

Community amenity contribution tied to Burrard Street rezoning application

“I’m pinching myself,” says Councillor Tim Stevenson. “This is something I’ve been working for and have dreamt of, for many, many years, and now all the stars have aligned, and it’s just amazing.” Credit: Shimon Karmel

Vancouver city staff is recommending that BC’s queer resource centre, Qmunity, receive $7 million in Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) funds to help the organization find a new home.

The recommendation stems from a rezoning application submitted by Jim Pattison Developments and Reliance Properties to redevelop sites on Burrard and Hornby streets. In exchange for city council’s permission to rezone the sites, the developers would give the city more than $15.8 million to be allocated among several community amenities. Qmunity would receive the largest share of the contribution — nearly half.

“It’s great news!” says Qmunity vice-chair Morgan Camley. “This is a big amount of money that will definitely move us forward.”

Qmunity has been searching for a new home for years, as it struggles to survive and continue to provide services in an aging building with high rent.

Camley says finding a new, accessible space is among the priorities listed in the organization’s recently developed five-year plan. A $7 million contribution would be “the capper of the plan,” she says.

“We’re very, very pleased because the city has really been a great supporter of Qmunity,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of very positive dialogue with the city over the last few years.”

“I’m pinching myself,” says Councillor Tim Stevenson.

“This is something I’ve been working for, and have dreamt of, for many, many years, and now all the stars have aligned and it’s just amazing,” he says.

“This $7 million is a very large piece of cash,” he continues. “It’s the first time the city has come through for the [LGBT] community with a contribution like this.”

Stevenson says he was “very keen” to earmark a significant proportion of the proposed community amenity contribution to the development of a new queer community centre.

He credits staff, the mayor, his council colleagues and Vision Vancouver party members for so far backing the plan. “I have been very, very happy with staff. And the mayor has been very responsive. Everybody has played their part.”

Finding a new home for Qmunity is listed among the priorities identified in the city’s draft West End plan, slated to go before council for approval on Nov 20.

Council will consider staff’s report and recommendations on Pattison’s redevelopment proposal on Nov 19.

Dean Malone, who sits on the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee and co-wrote the Davie Street Revitalization Report, which helped inform the West End draft plan, calls the community amenity recommendation a “great opportunity for Qmunity.”

“It’s awesome,” he says, adding that he didn’t expect to see community amenity funds proposed so quickly.

The draft West End plan, released less than a month ago on Oct 22, lists Qmunity under its public benefit strategies and suggests a 10-year timeframe for prioritizing the development of a new facility.

“I’m surprised they got the amount they have, and I’m surprised it’s coming so soon for the project,” Malone says. “I didn’t think it would come now, and the fact that it’s coming now is really amazing.”   

“I’m over the moon about this,” Stevenson says. “I really think that this [new community centre] will become a focus point for our community.”

“This is really going to be a very, very significant place and a significant addition to our community. It has the potential to bring a sense of belonging and empowerment to our community,” he says.

Camley says Qmunity has not yet found a location for a new centre but is working with the city to find a space in the West End and preferably in the gay village.

She says it’s too early to discuss what financial contributions Qmunity would bring to the project, or whether it would partner with other organizations in a future space.

Qmunity’s annual operating budget is $650,000, with government funds accounting for 80 percent of its revenue.

Camley says Qmunity is not opposed to the possibility of providing space for various community groups but says it is too early to set any plans in stone.

“We don’t know how it’s going to unfold,” she says. “The pieces are falling together quickly, but the larger pieces still have to be put in place.”

If council approves the Pattison redevelopment proposal and its contingent contribution to Qmunity, Stevenson says city staff will work closely with Qmunity to find a location and “use the money the best way possible.”

In addition to Qmunity, the community amenity contributions recommended for the Pattison redevelopments include $4 million toward public realm improvements, such as the Comox-Helmcken Greenway and improved bicycle/pedestrian facilities over the Burrard and Granville Street bridges; $2 million towards the completion of cultural facilities; and $2.8 million toward parks in the southern part of downtown.

The two sites proposed for rezoning and redevelopment span 1262 to 1290 Burrard Street and 1229 to 1281 Hornby Street.

According to the staff report, the two sites currently house “a mix of one- to two-storey retail and office buildings, including the Jim Pattison Toyota and Scion vehicle dealerships, parking lots, vacant sites and, along Hornby Street, two houses which have been identified as having heritage value but are not listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register.”