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Nanaimo gay space threatened

Landlord tries to evict 70 Below

Nanaimo’s only gay space, 70 Below, is in jeopardy, as the company that owns the building in which the bar is located is seeking to terminate its lease through a petition to the BC Supreme Court.

70 Below is located in the basement suite of Nanaimo’s Best Western Dorchester Hotel, which Mayfair Properties Ltd purchased last year. The bar’s lease is not scheduled to expire until Mar 31, 2009.

In an Apr 11 affidavit, Johane Thibault, Mayfair’s vice-president of operations, claims 70 Below and its owners, David Ashbach and Patrick Edwards, violated their lease by failing or neglecting to fill out their portion of the liquor license as requested by Mayfair.

Thibault claims that by failing to complete their Third Party Operator Application, 70 Below is compromising the hotel’s Liquor Primary License which is also used for other operations in the hotel, including an upstairs lounge. Thibault says a loss or suspension of their liquor license would put the entire operations of the hotel at risk.

Ashbach, who purchased the bar with Edwards in 2005, maintains that 70 Below did file its portion of the liquor license but not in the manner requested by Mayfair. “They hauled us into their office,” Ashbach alleges, “sat me down and presented a whole bunch of applications for a new liquor license and demanded that we sign it personally–meaning that we would effectively erase our corporation and now we would be personally operating as a third party operator. They gave us about eight hours to do so.

“What we did was fill it out properly; we filled it out as the number company, the third party operator with our representative as the responsible person. We hand-carried it down to the liquor control board and said the hotel would be sending the rest of the application and the cheque for renewal.”

Liquor Control Board records indicate that 70 Below’s liquor licence has been filed and is valid until February 2008.

This will not be the first time Mayfair and 70 Below go to court.

In 2006, Ashbach took Mayfair to small claims court over issues with utilities. 70 Below was promised heat, water, sewer, electrical and air conditioning services for $500 a month. “We took them to small claims court over phone services and air conditioning services that we were paying for but not getting,” Ashbach says. “They lost.”

Paul Tilroe, general manager of the Dorchester Hotel, says Mayfair made a “good offer” to buy out 70 Below’s lease after the company lost in small claims court.

Ashbach claims Mayfair offered them $50,000. “That’s less than half of what we purchased it for,” he says. “A sum of $170,000 to $180,000 is break even. I’ll go for that.”

Tilroe is adamant that the hotel does not want the bar there.

“We’re two totally opposite businesses,” he says. “We are in the business of sleep and they are in the business of noise. It’s particularly difficult, especially when people wake up from noise in the night.”

Tilroe says he receives complaints from hotel guests about the noise from the bar on a weekly basis. “There are lots of complaints and it has affected our business,” he says. “We will either move them to a different room or give them refunds.”

Edwards claims he spent almost a year working with the hotel owners towards a resolution. He installed sound blocking and sound monitoring equipment in the bar to line its walls and ceiling. He also offered to rent the two suites above the bar on busy nights.

“The most popular opinion amongst the clientele is that [the hotel] is a homophobic establishment,” says Edwards. “Their own events are loud. They have conventions, wedding receptions and so forth. Apparently they have mechanisms for dealing with that. At the end of the deal, they just didn’t want us here.”

When asked about the hotel’s relationship with the gay bar downstairs, one hotel clerk said hotel employees are not allowed to refer to 70 Below as a gay bar. “It’s an alternative bar,” said the clerk, who would only identify herself by her first name, Jackie.

When Xtra West put the question to Thibault, she replied: “I fail to see the interest with the readers in something like this.” She declined to make further comment on the case.

Tilroe denies any homophobia on the part of the hotel or its parent company. “The fact that it is a gay bar has never been an issue,” he says.

He says Mayfair is open to dialogue with the gay community, and notes the company’s membership in the Gay and Lesbian Business Association of BC (GLBA), whose head office is also located in a building owned by Mayfair. Members of the GLBA sign a business code of ethics in which they agree to ensure their business and its employees “provide a level of service to all members of the gay, lesbian, and transsexual communities that is respectful, compassionate, understanding and promotes integrity, responsibility, inclusiveness and trust.”

Prism Lounge, Victoria’s only gay space, is also situated in the basement of a Mayfair property, the Best Western Carleton Plaza Hotel.

Prism may be the last piece of gay space on Vancouver Island if things pan out the way Ashbach predicts.

“This is the end game basically,” he says. “We would like to see Nanaimo have a place like this. The truth is we’ve outgrown this. We could use double the space. But at the end of the day they are not willing to lease the space.

“In order for us to move we’d have to have our own primary license or third party operator again. It’s difficult to get a license in Nanaimo. The city doesn’t want to see more bars downtown anymore.”

Ashbach views this challenge as a statement for gay rights in Nanaimo. “There has never been such a thing as gay rights in Nanaimo. There’s sort of this tacit tolerance of gay people whereby they will ignore them and tolerate them but when we stood up and demanded equal treatment like normal businesses do, the shit hit the fan.”

He blames apathy within the gay community for this situation.

“Nobody in Nanaimo stands up. Trying to get these people into political activism is very hard. So many people just want to hide in a corner… Human rights are not something you ask for, they are something you take.”