Cultural-amenity spaces in Vancouver don't come cheap

Common-area charges on cultural-amenity spaces in Vancouver have made them unaffordable to the organizations meant to occupy them, say some in the arts community.

January 27 was the deadline for submissions from cultural groups wanting to occupy 8,500 square feet of space at the CBC Vancouver headquarters. The space comes with minimal or no rent, but there is an estimated cost of $6 per square foot in annual “common-area costs”—amounting to about $51,000 a year—on top of “all facility utility costs in addition to organizational programming and administration costs”, according to the city’s call for expressions of interest. The leaseholder will also be required to make capital upgrades to the electrical and plumbing systems and must demonstrate its ability to raise funds for these improvements prior to securing the facility.

The space was originally meant to be shared by the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, but all three have now opted out of the space. “There’s a lot of capital involved in securing that space,” noted John Orysik, media director of Coastal Jazz, adding: “It’s an economic challenge to deal with right now in a climate that’s very, very difficult.”¦We just decided in this particular climate right now that it would be best not to take that on.”

Richard Newirth, the city’s managing director of cultural services, explained that the common-area costs are set by the developer and, like strata fees in condos, are used for maintenance of shared facilities such as bathrooms. If cultural-amenity spaces remain unoccupied, he added, the city must cover those costs.

“In this situation, the city takes on the master lease and subleases to a nonprofit or more than one nonprofit,” he said. “So in the case of the CBC, for instance, it has been vacant, and so the city has been paying those costs.”¦The bills come to the city and the city is responsible to them. Until we get tenants in there to assume those costs, the city is on the hook for them.”

Newirth said the city has received four applications for the CBC amenity space, which will be reviewed by a jury this week.

Meanwhile, Max Reimer, artistic managing director of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, says the company has been taken aback by estimated annual common-area costs of between $7 and $9 per square foot—$308,000 to $396,000 a year—for the 44,000 square feet of what was planned as a rehearsal, workshop, and studio-theatre facility in the new Wall Centre False Creek development on the 100 block of West 1st Avenue.

“This amount is new to us,” said Reimer. “This idea of $7 to $9 a square foot was not part of the original thinking.” While the Playhouse would not pay rent in the new space, it would be on the hook for utilities and finishing costs as well. Reimer said the Playhouse currently pays $175,000 a year in total rent and utilities for its temporary 25,000-square-foot space at East 2nd Avenue and Main Street.

“It was the understanding of my predecessors, by boards, the architects, the planners, and the building committees prior, that it [the common-area cost] would not be that amount,” he said. “At this point, I can’t see how it would work as the parameters are given,” he added, but said he was working with the city at finding a solution, which could include a phased project. Construction is set to begin on the development in March.