The Red Gate may be handed a temporary lifeline by the city. Last month, the Downtown Eastside arts centre was given a 30-day order to vacate from the City of Vancouver Building Inspections Branch.
Now, according to Jim Carrico, one of the centre’s organizers, the city is prepared to give it a 60-day extension, provided that the building’s owner gives the city written assurance that safety issues will be addressed before June 30.
“That was the first condition, that he [the owner] have that [letter] at city hall, that work had begun by, basically, the day before the original evacuation notice, which is next Thursday,” explained Carrico by phone. “They’re going to come back and check on that. And then we’re supposed to put a plan together over the summer, and submit to them by the end of the summer a plan for how the building is going to be renovated and some permits applied for and whatnot.”¦ At this point, basically the city has done everything that we could reasonably expect them to do on our behalf. And now it’s really come down to the owner.”
Will Johnston, the city’s director of licenses and inspections, explained that there was a will to help the centre remain open. “If we had a commitment from the owner that he would move through and carry out all of the repairs and upgrades that need to be done to the building, while at the same time addressing those base level of life safety, we could revisit the order and provide more time,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking at. Our first priority is to deal with those base life safety requirements. We’re not expecting everything to be done, but at least enough done to give us a reasonable level of safety in the building.”¦ From the city’s perspective, you know, the city has made and continues, to make significant improvements with council’s direction to create and enable opportunities for artists in the city, but it’s paramount that those spaces are safe for all users.”
He added: “Our inspectors, as well as the city’s cultural services group and the Downtown Eastside planning group, have been working with the owner and artists in order to enable this facility so that it could continue in a safe manner. They’ve been trying to do that, and unfortunately we haven’t been successful at convincing the owner to carry out those repairs.”
Carrico said a number of fire-safety concerns that were cited in the order to vacate have already been addressed. “If you just read the order to vacate, it sounded like we didn’t have any functioning exit signs, emergency lighting, or smoke alarms,” he said. “But it was just like one smoke alarm out of dozen or so that was a problem. There were a couple other exit sign lightbulbs that needed to be replaced. The emergency lighting was everywhere they told us to put it three years ago, and one back staircase had been missed. So we’ve got that installed.”
Other issues cited in the order to vacate include missing drywall, damaged or non-functional washrooms, an exterior rear exit stair that does not comply with building bylaws, and a rear interior exit stair that does not comply with building bylaws.
Carrico explained that the city’s cultural services department has encouraged the centre to apply for cultural infrastructure grants in order to complete all the renovations required, but that it is ineligible for these until it has a formal agreement with the building’s owner, Moshe Mastai, for long-term occupancy.
“We don’t have to have an actual lease, as long as we have some kind of MOU, some kind of documented letter of intent, or whatever, to sign the lease,” said Carrico. “The cultural department [of the city] is all over it, the mayor and council seem to be quite explicit in supporting us.”¦ The main issue right now is getting the owner to commit. His problem is, ”˜Well, where’s all this money going to come from for this $2-million renovation?’ What I’m trying to say to him is look, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost, because we don’t know what the conditions are, and as it is right now, as far as I understand it, we’re okay with the current occupancy use of studio, as long as we don’t have public assembly.”
When reached by phone, Mastai declined to comment.
In the meantime, the Red Gate will be hosting fundraising events to finance the building’s repairs. The first takes place this Friday (June 24) at the Anza Club, and another event is being planned July 14, at the Waldorf Hotel.