The city's political parties are divided over how the W2 Media Arts society is going to pay its bills.
W2, a digital arts space and cafe aimed at providing Downtown Eastside residents with media tools, was given until Dec. 31 to clear out of its city-owned space in the Woodward's building for failure to pay an $85,000 a year "amenity fee" on top of its dollar a year lease with the city.
The City of Vancouver has stayed the eviction notice for three months while the non-profit develops a more stable business plan.
Civic political party COPE issued a statement last Tuesday, arguing that the fee is "burdensome" and should be reduced. But others aren't so keen on reducing W2's subsidized rent.
"We give a lot of support for the big cultural institutions, but we also have to support our small cultural institutions," former COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth told the Courier. "I think that reducing the amenity fees might be one of the solutions."
W2 has relied on several sources of revenue, including space rental, grants and a volunteer-operated cafe.
The financial troubles of W2 were well known to city staff. In a letter dated Feb. 23 obtained by the Courier, W2 informed city staff that the organization was facing a deficit of "approximately $80,000" and a debt load of "$110,000 in start up costs."
"W2 recognizes it will be 24-36 months until we are stable and operating at a break-even," the W2 board told city director of cultural services Richard Newirth. "We require time to redevelop our business plan and revise our agreement with the City of Vancouver on finishing the only public-access space in Woodward’s."
NPA Coun. George Affleck said he was concerned about W2’s business plan. "How do we check the viability of any organization when we're renting out city-owned space?" he asked, adding that he was not on council when the W2 was approved.
"[W2] operate with revenues and expenses, and one of your expenses is paying for your space," he said.
The original Woodward's redevelopment plan included social and market housing, as well as retail and "social enterprise" space. The city held an open bid for ideas for the 10,000-square-foot space W2 now occupies.
According to council documents, W2 presented the "strongest business case," beating out proposals from the Portland Hotel Society, Cycling B.C. and the Vancouver Native Housing Society.
But there were early concerns about the non-profit's ability to pay its fees.
"There were questions about sustainability, that it was a cultural organization and that it would be difficult to carry the amenity cost. But we decided to proceed because it was a very important concept they were presenting," said Woodsworth.
The letter also indicates W2 and the city were at odds over making the three-storey space accessible for disabled and elderly people. W2 sought "improvements to access systems enabling public entry to second floor and basement spaces for those unable to use stairs."
"We're not going to pay the amenity until they bring the facility up to spiff like they promised. It's got to be accessible," W2 board member Sid Tan told the Courier.
The city declined comment on the story.