3 min

New space for Qmunity a win for both groups

I’m about to be bought off and I think I like it.

Westbank Projects Corporation wants to build a rental high rise at 1401 Comox St. To sweeten the deal and make the contentious proposal more palatable to West Enders and city hall, they’ve offered three floors of the building to Qmunity.

Three floors of “wonderful, bright, accessible space,” says Qmunity’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear.

Though Breakspear says it’s too soon for her to discuss the proposal’s exact address, she confirms that a “very generous developer” approached Qmunity with a three-floor offer in the West End.

Sounds good to me.

Qmunity has been searching for years without success for new space in the West End. And now a white knight in a developer’s suit wants to offer them space, free of charge, on a silver platter. We’d be fools not to take it.

“It’s very exciting,” says Breakspear, who plans to keep Qmunity’s offices on Bute St while moving the meeting spaces for the coming-out groups and other drop-in programs to the new space.

Imagine hosting the elders’ tea in Qmunity space that doesn’t sit at the top of a rickety flight of dilapidated stairs, she says. Okay, I added the rickety and dilapidated. But you get the point. “It will be in Qmunity space that we can all use and enjoy,” she says.

If they get the space. And that’s still a big if. Westbank is still making its way through the development proposal process with city hall — and facing some stiff community opposition.

One group of area residents opposes what they call the “Manhattan Project” at 1401 Comox St. A little melodramatic for my taste, but their concern is not invalid. They see the Comox development as one of several “spot-by-spot radical rezonings” likely to transform the West End “without any hint of a comprehensive plan.”

They’re not wrong. We need a comprehensive new plan for the West End. The last plan was drafted in 1986, predates today’s housing situation and doesn’t even mention the gay community.

I’m all for a new plan that re-envisions and reinvigorates the West End and acknowledges its gay presence. But we’re not likely to get one this year.

What we are likely to get is city hall’s approval on the Comox St development with its deal-sweetening space for Qmunity — if we throw our support behind the proposal. Which I am prepared to do as soon as Westbank sweetens the deal a little more.

If we’re going to be bought off with prezzies, I don’t think we should come cheap.

Word on the street says Westbank is considering further sweetening the pot with several units of seniors’ housing in the building. Word even has it that some of those units will be specifically designated for queer seniors. Throw that in and you’ve got yourself a deal.

“Personally, I say build it,” says Tony Correia, who’s working with the OUR Spaces group to build a multipurpose queer community centre.

“As a renter, we need more apartment buildings,” he says. And giving Qmunity the space it needs won’t interfere with the pursuit of an equally needed multipurpose queer centre, he notes.

“It’s a win for everybody,” Breakspear agrees.

Qmunity and OUR Spaces are collaborating to support each other’s searches for space. And someday, Breakspear says, maybe Qmunity can move into a wing of the new multipurpose queer centre. “I just see wonderful potentials and synergies,” she says.

So do I.

So, step one: get ready to support Qmunity and the Westbank proposal for Comox St in public hearings.

Step two: go to OUR Spaces’ annual general meeting Apr 19 and join the search for our new community hub.

“We need a gay Roundhouse,” Correia says. Something with performance space, recreational space, a fitness area, room for same-sex ballroom dances and “a home for all our theatre companies that have no home.”

Three floors in a high rise is an excellent start. A multipurpose queer centre that we can call our own — that will be entirely “run by us, mandated by us” — is my long-term goal. Neither takes away from the other. Let’s make both a reality.