Odyssey supporters left city hall outraged Apr 9 after council turned down the popular gay club’s application to relocate to Denman St.
NPA councillor Suzanne Anton cast the only vote in favour of the Denman St location.
Citing noise pollution to the surrounding residential neighbourhood as their biggest concern, the other councillors dashed the Odyssey’s Denman hopes.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang compared the loss of one of Vancouver’s longest-running gay spaces to his father’s favourite Chinese restaurant closing. His father found a new restaurant and got over it, Jang told council.
“It seems to me that the feeling is that if the Odyssey closes there will never be another Odyssey. There will never be another club that caters to the gay community,” Jang said. “It’s sort of like when my father was upset his favourite Chinese restaurant closed but then he found another one.”
“There are 900 Chinese restaurants in Vancouver. He has that luxury, we don’t,” retorted Joan-E following the hearing.
“I’m horrified,” Joan-E said, particularly appalled by lesbian councillor Ellen Woodsworth’s decision to reject the Denman location.
“She just succeeded in closing the only full-time gay cabaret in Vancouver and she couldn’t even look us in the eye to do it,” Joan-E said.
“I don’t think it [Denman St] is the appropriate place for the Odyssey,” Woodsworth told council. “I would like the Odyssey to move to a place where it can be even more wonderful and powerful than it is now and I don’t think this is the place.”
However, she did support a motion to mandate city staff to help the Odyssey find a new home.
Odyssey co-owner Michael Levy says talks are now underway with city staff to extend the club’s lease on Howe St while Levy searches for another new space.
The club’s Howe St lease — set to expire Apr 30 unless the city grants an extension — was prematurely terminated last May following a joint city-province agreement to build supportive housing for HIV-positive people on the site.
“Staff has graciously extended an olive branch saying we can work out a [lease] extension,” Levy said after the vote.
“We don’t expect the city to find us a site but what we do expect is when we do find a site that the city will help make that site possible,” he says, urging the city to “cut us some slack here, for god’s sake!”
The city can support the next proposed site by helping with things like zoning issues and hours of operation, Levy explains.
City licensing coordinator Lucia Cumerlato says staff will look at possibly “relaxing” certain zoning policies when the Odyssey finds a new site.
However, Cumerlato did say the community consultation process will have to be conducted again regardless of where the club decides to relocate.
Staff’s consultation report on the Denman site showed more people opposed the proposed relocation than supported it.
Levy wants to know why the city and BC Housing are in such a rush to kick the Odyssey off Howe St, given that construction on the supportive housing project is not yet ready to begin.
Levy says he’s been told the project’s funding has not yet been secured. He says he received an email from BC Housing last week notifying him that construction on Howe St is not slated to begin next month.
Sam Rainboth, spokesperson for BC Housing, confirms he sent the email to Levy. When asked when demolition will begin, Rainboth says he can’t provide a set date.
Rainboth also confirms that the Odyssey is not among the six supportive housing sites that have been given the go-ahead with capital funding to begin construction.
Levy says he is meeting again with city and provincial officials as Xtra West goes to press to discuss the possibility of extending the club’s current lease.
Rainboth says he isn’t aware of any discussions taking place this week.
Jerry Evans, of the city’s real estate department, has no knowledge of any meetings either. “We would have to discuss the option of a lease extension between internal stakeholders [city housing] and BC housing,” he says.
Levy remains optimistic.
“I think they will give us an extension,” he says, noting that allowing the club to stay in its current location until construction is ready to begin would give the Odyssey the time it needs to find a new home.
Levy has maintained that finding a club within the three-block liquor primary zone on Davie St is difficult, and relocating to Granville St is not a safe option for the club’s clientele.
“Our need for clubs in the West End is not based on our feeling of want or our feeling of entitlement,” Joan-E told council during the hearing. “It’s because quite frankly the safety of our patrons is not possible elsewhere. I would love to go to a big spanking club on Granville St, but unfortunately dressed like this [in drag] I wouldn’t make it home.”