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Qmunity promises extensive consultation when new site secured

Organization hosts information session to answer preliminary questions

Qmunity executive director Dara Parker hosted an information session Feb 6 to provide clarity and transparency to the process of finding a new community centre. “There was a lot of misinformation and a lot of questions from community, and so we realized that we needed to create an opportunity,” she said. Credit: James Loewen

Every seat was taken at an information session held Feb 6 by Qmunity to discuss the creation of its new community centre, for which the organization was recently awarded $7 million by the City of Vancouver.

Qmunity executive director Dara Parker told the approximately 75 attendees that she hoped to provide clarity and transparency in the process of finding Qmunity a new home.

Though this session was focused on sharing preliminary information, clearing up any misunderstandings and answering questions, Parker said Qmunity is planning a thorough, multi-pronged community consultation after a site for the new facility is secured, likely later this year.

“There was a lot of misinformation and a lot of questions from community, and so we realized that we needed to create an opportunity,” she said.

“As soon as we’ve secured a site, we’re going to embark on a much broader community consultation,” she said. “We see this as incredibly important, and we want to get it right.”

Qmunity sees itself “as a shepherd” moving the project forward for the community, Parker said.

The organization plans to hire a neutral third party to run the consultation and engage the community in multiple ways, including, perhaps, town halls, focus groups and online interactions.

“Qmunity really sees itself as an umbrella for the LGBTQ community,” Parker said. “We want to be a central hub.”

Parker said Qmunity is anticipating a 10,000-square-foot facility and expects its construction to cost $10 million, $7 million of which has already been secured. She hopes to receive the remaining $3 million from other development projects’ community amenity funds.

While Parker is confident that Qmunity can raise the capital to create the facility, she says Qmunity will have to find ways to increase its operating budget to sustain the space once it’s built.

“Our operating budget hasn’t changed one penny since this announcement, and we’re moving into a space that’s more than double our current space,” she explained.

“The board and I are very conscious about wanting to create a long-term future for this community in a hub that we can financially manage,” she said. “We’re already brainstorming. We’re already looking at how to increase our grants. But we’re also looking at private donors; we’re looking at legacy opportunities, estate planning and hosting our own events and growing those events over time.”

Parker said Qmunity is working closely with the city to find a site in or close to the gay village by the end of the year.

“The only imperative is that it needs to be in or near the West End,” she said. “We know this is a really important cultural and historical hub for the community.”

“What we’re looking for is first a site that’s either in the Davie Village or very close to the Davie Village and then, based on the site, we can look at what the options are,” city planner Holly Sovdi confirmed.

The new site must also be accessible, with some visible, street-level access, Parker said, and must offer a “mix of flexible, multi-purpose spaces.”

Though many people have indicated in past consultations that they would like a designated theatre space, Parker said multi-use rooms would likely make more sense in 10,000 square feet. She suggested, for example, a space that could at times be used to present performances while at other times hosting seniors’ yoga classes.

But all ideas are still on the table, she said.

Ron Dutton, who runs BC’s gay archives, said 10,000 square feet seems “woefully inadequate” for a new community centre.

Community member Kona agreed. “There are lots of things that the community needs, but I think that ultimately 10,000 square feet is not a lot of space,” she told Xtra after the meeting.

“We’re working within our means,” Parker replied to Dutton. “We haven’t secured more operating funds” to sustainably run a larger space.

This is the largest space that realistically can be sought without requiring matching capital funds from Qmunity, which the organization has never been able to raise, Parker said.

Qmunity currently operates within 4,000 square feet on Bute Street.

Other attendees expressed concern about ensuring a transparent and thorough consultation with diverse members of the community.

Parker promised that Qmunity would reach out to as many people in the community as possible through a wide variety of consultation tactics.

“I think it’s really easy to say that you’re going to have consultation with a diverse group of people, but I don’t think that that’s very easy to follow through with,” Chrissy Taylor told Xtra after the information session.

Taylor, who is vice-president of the Vancouver Pride Society, wants to see solid plans that include consultation from all spectrums of the LGBT community, inside and outside the West End.

Long-time Qmunity volunteer Vincent Wheeler appreciated the information session. “I feel it has been a very positive part of the process. I’m happy it went so well, and I’ve heard some good things.”

“The information presented tonight was great,” agreed Drew Dennis, executive director of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

“I’m encouraged by some of the questions that were asked and also people understanding that it is bigger than the $7 million that’s already been identified and that there will be opportunities for us as members to contribute,” Dennis said. “I think there will be more clarity to those opportunities as the process unfolds.

“I like the idea of it being a hub and being anchored in what is recognized — historically and culturally — as community space,” Dennis added.

Dennis also supports having multi-purpose spaces in the new facility. “Flexibility is going to be really important so that the space can be used for a broad range [of services].”

Kona welcomes the increased stability that she expects will come from having a long-term lease with the city.

“Having a place that’s going to be anchored solidly means that Qmunity will be stable, and it gives them a place where they can be for another 30 years,” she said. “Having a solid launch pad begins to give you opportunities.”

Though the centre is still in the very early planning stages, Parker told Xtra after the meeting that finding a physically and visually accessible space is non-negotiable.

“We want to be accessible on all fronts. We want to be physically accessible, but we also want to be loud and proud. We really want to be front and centre to make sure people know about us and the services we offer.”

Parker said Qmunity is open to all community feedback throughout the planning stages. “We’d really like to engage a broader community voice, so we’re very open to people participating,”

Parker reiterated Qmunity’s commitment to hiring a third party to run the consultations. “Having an institution behind the consultation might lend more credibility to the process,” she told Xtra.

She estimates that a new LGBT community centre will be fully functional by 2018.