Qmunity will expand to new quarters in the West End if an anticipated application for the new site’s re-development is approved by city council.
Westbank Projects Corporation wants to construct a market rental high rise at 1401 Comox St site as part of the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) program, which provides incentives for developers who construct rental housing.
The site currently houses the now-vacant St John’s United Church.
If the new high rise is approved, Westbank has offered to set aside some of its space for Qmunity.
“I suspect we’ll know for sure in the next couple of months that this project is proceeding and we’re involved in it,” says Qmunity executive director Jennifer Breakspear. “If we are in it we could be moving into [the] space within two or three years.”
Breakspear says Qmunity wouldn’t move its entire operations to the new site. The staff and hub of operations will remain at their 1170 Bute location, she explains. The new space will expand upon Qmunity’s three existing meeting rooms.
“We hope that with this new opportunity we’ll be offering newer, bigger, brighter and better space for use to those who use our own programs and also to the community, just as we’ve always done but with bigger and better options,” she says.
Qmunity’s new space would complement the new multipurpose queer community centre also in the works, people from both groups agree.
Qmunity is not aiming to create a multipurpose community centre, Breakspear says. “We’ve realized that’s not a part of our direction or have the capacity for at this time. We’re focusing on the services we provide and the innovative programming we’re known for.
“We’re thrilled about the possibility that there’s a will, spirit and energy” to build a multipurpose centre, she adds. “If anyone can make it happen I believe they can.”
In 2009 members of Vancouver’s queer community formed the Out Under the Rainbow (OUR) Spaces society to build and maintain a multipurpose queer community centre.
It’s a long-term project that will complement, not replace, services offered by Qmunity, says OUR Spaces spokesperson James Beresford.
“The space Qmunity is moving into is just for their programming delivery,” he says. “In essence what our organization is doing is building a facility that will host not only social services but arts, recreation and leisure activities as well.
“Specifics will be worked out at a later point by a subsequent board,” he notes.
“We know it’s going to take years for us to develop this community centre but it will be built. Our community will have it and it will last,” Beresford says.
“Our society is established for the development, building and maintenance of a building. We will not be developing social services or social service agencies. That’s Qmunity’s hat.”
“We’re all excited about the possibility of when OUR Spaces’ initiative becomes reality,” says Breakspear. “When that happens we all hope that Qmunity will take our hub of offices and move them into the OUR Spaces building if they are able to build their building and can establish a reasonable rent arrangement.”
This is a win-win situation, according to Vision Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson
“Both sides are happy,” he says. “Qmunity will support the initiative of OUR Spaces and the community will be supporting OUR Spaces to find a location and have the city help in finding a broader vision.”
It’s common practice for developers to offer the city public amenities, such as playgrounds, pools or community centres, in exchange for permission and even incentives to build their projects.
Westbank is offering its amenity to Qmunity, which would not only assist Qmunity but leave the city free to offer another amenity in the future to OUR Spaces’ multipurpose centre, Stevenson says.
“If we put two amenities towards the gay and lesbian community the public would not be very happy,” Stevenson notes. “Other groups would say ‘they got two sets of amenities.’
“In this case the developer is just giving Qmunity this space and saying, ‘Hey, you can have this amenity,'” says Stevenson. “It’s not a city amenity, which is wonderful as it allows the city to find something for OUR Spaces that will be a community amenity.”
Stevenson says the city will only support the project if both Qmunity and OUR Spaces work together to make it happen.
“I’m very pleased that both sides have come to a place where they are supporting each other. This is very important to me,” he says.
On Feb 8 OUR Spaces wrote a letter in support of Westbank’s proposal. In that letter Beresford says “our respective organizations are committed to working together to make a lasting difference.”
The plan for Qmunity space at 1401 Comox must still clear a few more hurdles, though.
Whether or not council supports the plan, says Stevenson, will depend on public hearings.
“I do not know whether that project will be accepted by council because it still has to go to public hearing and we still have to hear the public,” he says. “As of last month the public were upset that there was going to be a high rise of any sort and many in the public were not terribly supportive even though it was going to be rental housing.”
Westbank Projects Corporation could not be reached for comment.
OUR Spaces will host its first annual general meeting, in which it will elect its first permanent board, on Mon Mar 15. Watch xtra.ca for location and time.