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The Centre calls for community support

Feasibility study funding in jeopardy

The Centre called for community support in achieving its vision of a new queer community centre building, Feb 24. Money that was offered by the City of Vancouver for a feasibility study is now in jeopardy because the newly elected city council has designated it a low priority in its 2006 preliminary budget.

Xtra West reported on Mar 31, 2005 that The Centre was eligible for up to $100,000 in funding for a feasibility study and that the next step was for The Centre to submit a detailed plan to city staff about how much it was going to cost. But the plan wasn’t finalized by the time an NPA-dominated city council was elected, Nov 19.

The Centre’s board secretary Brian Lin says The Centre has now devised a plan for a feasibility study that will cost about $42,000. “That’s what it costs for us to basically get a much better sense of the capacity of our community in terms of what they believe is the best solution,” he says.

Xtra West asked The Centre’s board chair Craig Maynard if waiting so long to present a feasibility study plan was a missed opportunity, particularly with the civic election looming last fall.

“I think that may be an over-simplification of the process,” he says. “There is a lot of going back and forth as to the details of how the money was to be spent and the details of the process. You can’t just walk up to the city cashier and say, ‘I’ve got a resolution, where’s the cash?'”

Jeff Brooks, director of social planning for the City of Vancouver, says The Centre didn’t contact him about the feasibility study grant until October of 2005. Brooks says the city only started working with The Centre in late October and early November. “That’s when the process started moving forward,” he says. The civic election was Nov 19.

“They didn’t submit anything,” continues Brooks. “What they said to us at the time was they thought the mechanism for release of the funds was through city council. They were not aware they needed to report back.”

But in March 2005, when Xtra West asked The Centre’s executive director Donna Wilson for her comment on the feasibility grant and the next steps, she told Xtra West:”We’ll be meeting with the city to work out the details because they need to get a detailed proposal.”

Maynard says the goal isn’t so much about the money, but getting the feasibility study and a new building off the ground. “We’ve done our homework and due diligence as far as finding the lowest price economic Chevy version of a feasibility study. We’re doing our bit to prove to the taxpayers that we’re not out there spending like there’s no tomorrow.”

Maynard says members of The Centre’s board of directors are in the process of meeting with city councillors to try to convince them to approve the money. He says the reception has been good so far.

In October 2005, when Xtra West asked then-mayoral candidate, now mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan about the building of a new queer community centre, he had this to say: “I tried to get in it once. It’s terrible… I have many gay disabled friends who would tell you about trouble with access to The Centre. I think it’s unacceptable. I personally have felt hindered to get the support I needed from The Centre.”

Sullivan is confined to a wheelchair as a result of a skiing accident he suffered as a younger man and The Centre’s current location is only accessible via a steep, dark, narrow and creaky staircase. There is no way for him to access the space.

But when pressed to support fixing the problem, Sullivan was non-committal.

“It would have helped if I had been able to get in there,” he said. “I will do everything I can within policy. I know a number of other groups that are inaccessible. I can’t just say I’m going to throw my political weight behind building a free-standing space without knowing what other groups will come after me for support.”

“Who knows? That money may go,” says city councillor Tim Stevenson, who lobbied his Vision Vancouver council colleagues to approve The Centre’s feasibility study grant early in 2005.

“It’s very important that The Centre get the money for this feasibility study,” continues Stevenson. “I’m doing everything I can, even though now the situation is much more difficult because I’m no longer in the party in power. I don’t have the same possibilities as I did before.”

Stevenson says the city’s budget will likely be cut dramatically by the NPA-dominated council in an effort to keep Sullivan’s election promise of shifting part of the tax burden away from businesses.

As well as designating the feasibility study a low priority, Stevenson says the preliminary budget report recommends approval of the usual city funding for The Centre’s programs, but there’s a new catch. The recommendation in the preliminary report is that half of the $29,500 annual grant be approved to cover The Centre for the first six months of the year.

“The problem is that it’s only six months, which has never been done before,” says Stevenson. “This is when the big budget process takes place. Half a year from now, there won’t be any of the scrutiny or any of the budget process.”

Nevertheless, Maynard remains optimistic that the feasibility money can be secured. “The opportunity is before us now,” he says. “To say there is no opportunity before us now would be wrong. The merits of what we are doing is very important.”

In a letter to Xtra West’s last issue, Lin wrote: “Unless the mayor and city council hears, loud and clear, the need for a new LGTB community centre that accurately reflects the pride, value and contributions of our communities, the feasibility study will lose out in the fierce competition for municipal funding.” Lin urges members of the queer community to “call, write, or e-mail. Tell your city council what kind of Vancouver you want the world to see in 2010.”