Amid the din of coffee machines and the conversations from neighbouring tables at Melriches, some 16 community members met with The Centre’s executive director, Jennifer Breakspear, May 11 to express their concerns about The Centre, its future location and its problems with communication.
The coffee-and-conversation meeting marked the first of several announced in the wake of last month’s uproar at news that The Centre’s board was considering moving the facility out of the West End, potentially to a location at Burrard and 7th.
At a Centre board meeting Apr 16, lawyer barbara findlay warned that such a move would “kill The Centre.”
Board co-chair Craig Maynard said the Burrard and 7th location was just one option on the table, but The Centre has to do something to reduce its overhead facility costs.
Pride Society director Terry Costa, who attended the Melriches chat, asked Breakspear if a move was really necessary, and if so, whether there was a timeline.
“There’s no drop-dead timeline, no,” Breakspear replied. “It’s not that we have to move out by x date or else we’re going to close the door.
“The board and I recast the 2009 budget a number of times,” she continued. “Each time we got new information from government, from our donors, so we’ve cast a budget for 2009 that we believe we can manage. We will be in a better position if we can cut some costs.”
The two biggest costs, she noted, are staff and rent.
“We don’t want to do anything to staff,” she said, “so could we save money on rent?”
Community member Eric Graff wanted to know if the city could be enlisted to help foot the cost of a new building “since the gay tax base is pretty large.”
That might be, Breakspear responded, but the gay community is not “talking behind our tax base.”
“I need you to tell our politicians to make our community a priority in their budgeting so that it isn’t just me arguing with the planner about my budget but representatives of this community telling them,” she told the gathering.
Community member Jayson Anderson said the money for a new building was already there but The Centre was not tapping into the right places to access it. He pointed to the community’s elders, many of whom do not feel part of the contemporary incarnation of the community, he said.
“These men and these women are together in relationships for over 50 years and there’s lots of them,” Anderson said. “They have property and they want to leave a mark, and it’s just a matter of building relationships with that community — instead of throwing them away,” he said.
Anderson called for the formation of donation and contribution teams. He said several non-profit organizations bring in “huge money” that way, instead of relying on the city or other political entities.
Xtra West columnist Tony Correia cautioned that if The Centre moves once it opens the door for more moving around.
“I understand that the steps are a huge liability to that site but we’ve known this for a long time,” he said, acknowledging the current site’s inaccessibility.
“Instead of saying, ‘Let’s find a whole new Centre,’ why don’t you appeal to the community for one thing at a time?” he suggested. New steps, for example, might be an option worth exploring.
Community member Bob Owens said he’d like The Centre to stay where it is. He said he understands the accessibility issue because he built an elevator in his home to accommodate his son who’s been in a wheelchair for many years.
Owens says he himself attends meetings daily at The Centre.
“It’s so easy to put an elevator up into the lobby and away we go,” Owens suggested.
Breakspear said that’s been explored but making such a structural change would cost about $200,000 and would require bringing an old building up to code.
What’s the biggest problem here, asked Pride sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko. Are community members more concerned about accessibility or the possibility that The Centre might leave the West End?
It’s “don’t leave the West End,” Breakspear replied.
But, she said, she still needs to know what geographic parameters the community would accept for The Centre’s relocation. “I need to know this because if the community is going to come back on us in a really big way that you can’t take it outside of x, I need to know what is x.”
If keeping The Centre in the West End didn’t matter, this would be “no big deal,” Owens said. “But it does matter, it has mattered up to this point, it still matters.
“If we take off the table moving it, and say, ‘Okay, let’s focus our energy on staying there instead of moving, that energy may develop a plan. We haven’t done that,” Owens concluded.