Cultural-amenity space at CBC Vancouver HQ sits empty

City councillors and staff say they are ready to reconsider how the city handles cultural-amenity spaces, as an increasing number of groups are being turned off by unexpected expenses.

The city’s managing director of cultural services, Richard Newirth, confirmed that despite a call that ended in January for submissions from cultural and arts organizations in the city, the 8,500-square-foot cultural-amenity space at the CBC Vancouver headquarters remains empty.

“We had four applications and it turned out that actually a few of them withdrew, one of them could only take part of the space, and those four didn’t work out,” he said. “We’re back at the drawing board to make sure that we get the right organization in there.”

The original call for submissions stated the space would come with minimal or no rent, with 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 as well as organizational programming and administration costs”.

Newirth said he does not believe common-area costs were the issue, but rather the expense involved in finishing the space. “I think that what we’ve found was that it was the build-out costs that were scaring people away,” he noted. “We’re looking at what we can do to address that.”

Coun. Heather Deal said the issue is one the city should look into. “The staff do the absolute best they can to negotiate the best cultural space that we can get, but we are hearing concerns about the costs of those spaces,” she said. “I think we need to look really hard at that program and decide whether or not it’s the best way to get cultural amenities to the city.”

One idea that’s been brought forward, said Deal, is to establish an endowment fund to help with those expenses. Meanwhile, as long as a space remains empty, the city is stuck with paying the common-area costs to the developer.