After several months of quiet negotiations with the city, the province and various West End locations, the owner of the Odyssey has announced that the popular gay nightclub should soon have a new home.
“The place that we have chosen to move the Odyssey is the old Starlight Theatre on Denman St,” Michael Levy told Xtra West Jan 8.
“I feel it’s very central to the community. It’s a nice-looking building, it has a nice structure, it has windows. It’s the whole upstairs, which will allow us to accommodate an equal number of seats as we have here. I think it will make a great Odyssey.”
The announcement puts months of community speculation on the move to rest. Levy has been searching for a new home for the club ever since the city prematurely terminated its lease on Howe St last May.
The city-owned Howe St site will soon be redeveloped into a 12-storey building with 110 units of supportive housing for people with HIV/AIDS. Construction on the project was scheduled to begin last fall but has been delayed. A spokesperson for BC Housing says the development permit approval process for the site is underway and construction should begin some time this year.
In October, the city granted Levy a three-month extension on his lease, buying the Odyssey more time to secure a new location.
Although Levy says the club’s new location has now been secured, he has yet to confirm a moving date.
Levy blames the slow process of bureaucracy for the delay.
He says the province has reviewed his application to relocate the club and is now waiting for input from the city.
“Currently the application is with us,” a spokesperson for BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch confirms. “We will be asking local government to assess the community impacts and views of the residents, and provide a resolution to the Branch saying whether they support the relocation application. A major component of our criteria is whether the local government supports the application.”
Levy admits he is frustrated with how long the process is taking.
“They [the city] are the ones with the carrot and the stick,” he says. “We’re working as fast as we can [and] we’re as eager as we can be to move. Our staff is eager to move. But it is out of our control. The city is the one that has our lease and the city is the one who can give us the license.”
Levy suspects the issue will go to council next month but is urging city licensing to speed the process along, adding that renovations on the new space can’t begin until the city grants a permit.
“They’re not cutting us any slack,” he points out. “What they could do on the licensing end of things is expedite things. Our position is: ‘You’re expediting our demise from this place; expedite our revival at the other space.'”
But the city licensing coordinator says the city has no way of expediting the process —and there is no way the process will be complete by Jan 31, the date the extended lease is set to expire on Howe St.
“They haven’t even applied yet,” says Lucia Cumerlato.
According to Cumerlato, the city has not yet received notice from the province to move forward with the licensing and bylaw process —and until they do, the city’s hands are tied.
“As soon as we get approval from the province then we can start the process,” Cumerlato says.
Levy is adamant that the Odyssey shouldn’t be forced to close its doors on Howe St if the city delays its application to relocate.
“They can let us stay here until the last possible minute. Until they have their building permits in order, until the financing is in order, until BC housing approves everything that needs to be approved,” he says.
“I don’t see the bulldozers at the door,” he points out. “The last thing we want is for this place to be sitting idle for six months and the city not getting revenue, 40 people out of work and the community losing a valued establishment.”
Cumerlato estimates the entire process will take another two months. The community consultation could take up to a month, she explains, then the application has to go to city council for approval before it is finalized by the province.
Asked if council could help expedite the process, lesbian city councillor Ellen Woodsworth says she’ll look into it. “Generally speaking we cannot speed up a process as that would be unfair to other applications in the process,” she says.
But she doesn’t anticipate a problem once the Odyssey’s relocation application gets to council.
“Given that there are other liquor licenses in that area, I don’t see it as being a problem. [However] it is the city’s standard practice to see that the neighbourhood approves of anything that goes in,” she says.
Gay councillor Tim Stevenson was unavailable for comment prior to press time.
In the meantime, Levy has applied for another extension on the Howe St lease.
But Jerry Evans, associate director of real estate for the city, says another extension won’t happen.
“What we agreed to do was extend the lease until the end of January. Just because the Odyssey doesn’t have a permit for the new location doesn’t mean we are going to extend their lease again,” he says.
“We’ve extended it once and we were very clear with the Odyssey that that is all we were going to extend it.”
Levy says he was anticipating that the city might reject his request but says he will continue to “push a little harder” to get the extension.
As for the new venue, Levy says the space may look different but the club will continue to cater to the gay community.
“It’s going to stay the same, catering to the same clientele with similar promotions. It’s a formula that’s worked for us for many, many years and we have no intention of altering that.”
The old Starlight Theatre is situated across from King George High School and the West End Community Centre on Denman St. The surrounding streets are residential.
Although Levy acknowledges that a nightclub at that venue could pose a problem for some in the community, Brent Granby, president of the West End Residents Association, is not concerned.
“I think as long as they are respectful of the residents I don’t think there is going to be a problem,” he says.
Vancouver should be more active in the promotion of mixed-use zoning where businesses operate in close proximity to residential buildings, Granby adds. “It brings a lot of variety to a residential neighbourhood.”