Gay community members are outraged at the potential relocation of The Centre outside of the West End, saying the move would lead to the death of the organization.
“Everybody’s reaction is, ‘They’re going to do what?’ in various tones of alarm, dismay and ‘No, no, they can’t possibly do that,’” lawyer barbara findlay told The Centre’s board of directors Apr 16.
“I do speak for other people — lots of other people — and the sense of those people is that, first of all, if you move to Burrard and 7th, you will kill The Centre. Period, full stop,” findlay warned the board, which met at co-chair Craig Maynard’s home in the West End.
“The result of moving The Centre would be that the community itself is degraded by your loss,” findlay continued.
“We are a relatively insular community and we will come to the West End — we will go to Little Sister’s, we’ll go to The Centre, we’ll go to the activities that are down here at the bars — but a little outpost on 7th and Burrard just is not going to be enough of a draw to take anybody over the bridge,” she said.
“You can’t be The Centre in isolation,” former city councillor Alan Herbert told the board. “They are diametrically opposed.”
“I don’t know what consultation there has been, so if they’ve done it, I’m unaware of it,” Herbert told Xtra West after the meeting.
“And if I’m unaware of it, then it means that there’s a lot of other people who won’t know either.
“They must do a community consultation,” Herbert insists. “That I think goes without any question at all.”
Maynard says the community was already consulted a few years ago when The Centre conducted a feasibility study asking people what they’d like to see in a new building.
At the time, many respondents expressed interest in The Centre establishing branches in their communities, especially on The Drive. “There were a myriad of voices,” Maynard says.
“We’re always listening to community members’ voices,” he continues. “Those all get factored in. It’s an ongoing process.”
“We really have an understanding of the needs of the community,” adds board member Rebecca Shields.
Herbert would like to see The Centre’s directors hold a public meeting to discuss the future of The Centre. “I think that’s the way to go. Enter into a dialogue,” he urges.
Maynard says the Burrard and 7th location is just one option on the table. But The Centre has to do something, he says, because it has to reduce its overhead facility costs.
“It’s about a sustainable community centre,” Shields says, where money goes to services not rent. “We’re committed to the services that we’re providing. It’s about people not rent.”
Permanently moving The Centre to Burrard would “definitely be the wrong thing,” Herbert warns.
Findlay agrees. She says it’s important to locate a community centre where the community is. “You wouldn’t put the Croatian community centre in Surrey.”
“What I’m here to say to you is you can die a slow death financially or you can commit suicide,” she said.
“You are not the community centre. The community centre is the community’s. You are the stewards of the community centre,” Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva told the board.
“Be very, very careful,” he warned, “that the community centre progresses and you’re not the board that ends the community centre.”
Deva maintains that having The Centre in the Davie Village is vital to “a viable LGBT core.”
He proposed a fundraising plan that would see Pride weekend leveraged to raise money for The Centre. He says he has already approached the Pride Society with his idea.
“Let’s really bring The Centre to Pride and when people are in that mood of ‘what can you do, how can you do it?’ — that’s the time to nail them and get them supporting you,” Deva told The Centre’s directors.
Deva told Xtra West he will present his idea to the Pride Society at its next board meeting Apr 27.
Pride Society president Ken Coolen says Pride is “always open to anything.”
He confirms that Deva has given him “some of the talking points,” but says “at the end of the day, we have to see what the budget is” and how the plan would make money.
“We’re never going to turn down someone who wants to raise money for The Centre,” says The Centre’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear.
But, says Breakspear, “what Jim’s proposing involves another organization making significant changes to their fundraising plans, and it’s not for The Centre to suggest what another organization should do.”
Asked if anyone from The Centre would attend the Pride board meeting at which Deva plans to present his idea, Breakspear says she “wouldn’t presume to attend a Pride board meeting.”
“I have had conversations with Ken about Jim’s proposal and again I’ll just say it’s not for The Centre to get involved in how Pride is doing their business, just as it wouldn’t be proper for Pride to get involved in how The Centre does our business,” she says.
“There’s a fine line there about organizations messing in each other’s organizations,” she continues.
“I respect the Pride board’s independence and their autonomy within their organization. I wouldn’t presume to go and talk to the Pride board about it.
“I would have direct conversations with some of the individuals in Pride, which I believe would be the process to then take things to their board themselves. It’s not my place,” Breakspear maintains.
“Nobody wants more to keep The Centre alive than this board,” Breakspear said at last week’s Centre board meeting.
“You all have been giving us hell about that [current Bute and Davie] location for years,” she pointed out. “Those stairs? Those stairs are a shame. Every time I greet a visitor in that place, I’m ashamed of those stairs. This is something we’ve taken flak for from this community for years.
“We need accessible street-level space we can be proud of from which we can deliver our programs and services for our community. That’s what we’re about,” Breakspear emphasized.
Findlay said the Burrard location would be just as inaccessible as Bute St.
The street grade would be too steep for people to wheel up or come down, she pointed out. “Effectively, there’s no advantage from a physically accessible point of view.”
Breakspear said The Centre is “not looking to do any damage to the Davie Village or this community. We’re looking to continue to enhance this community. If there were space to do that right now in the Davie Village, we’d be all over that.
“And if — and this is an if, it’s not a done deal — if The Centre moves out of the Davie Village, it would always be with the intent of returning, to a true beautiful home of our own. It would never be a permanent move,” Breakspear promised.
“This board has never considered that as a possibility. It is always to come home again — if we have to leave, and we don’t know yet whether we do,” she said.
Like Maynard, Breakspear said the board is examining its options because it needs to cut operating costs.
She said the board has been looking for a new location in the West End but thus far no architecturally appropriate sites have been found.
“Shutting [the board] at the gate” while it explores its possibilities is shortsighted, she added.
“It’s not accurate to say there are no architecturally appropriate sites,” findlay countered.
Not street-level sites, Breakspear fired back.
Trying to cut The Centre off in a process of exploration doesn’t serve the community, Breakspear reiterated.
“I’m hearing you say, ‘barbara, you’re fucking it up,’” findlay replied. ‘Here you’ve gone, you’ve released all this information that we were trying to keep confidential. It’s going to make it really hard for us to negotiate with anybody, and who are you to say that the consideration of all the options that we’ve made carefully and with the best information we can gather is a wrong decision for the community.’
“All I’m here to tell you is the reaction of the people of the community,” findlay said. “And I am here to tell you that in the strongest possible terms.”
Findlay then asked the board to reject the Burrard and 7th option and announce to the community that it won’t be moving out of the West End.
“I know we’re not going to have a decision tonight,” he told Xtra West after the meeting.
Asked if locations outside the West End are still on the table, Maynard says every option is under consideration. “Wherever we can make the best use of our resources. It’s about the people that we serve.”
The Centre is expected to hold its next annual general meeting in June.
Typically, it’s mid-June, Breakspear says, but it depends on where space can be booked. Any member of the organization who has been in good standing for at least 30 days before the AGM is eligible to vote.