Dismissed Vancouver school trustee Patti Bacchus is concerned about what’s going to happen next with Kingsgate Mall.
She worries that the district-owned property on Broadway and Kingsway may be sold to fill up a budget shortfall.
“Kingsgate Mall has raised millions of dollars in revenue that have gone straight into programming and staffing of the school board through the lease payments, and I would hate to see that lost over the long term for a short-term answer to the province’s underfunding of public schools,” Bacchus told the Straight by phone.
No spokesperson from the Vancouver school district was immediately available for an interview about the future of Kingsgate Mall.
Bacchus recalls that before she and other trustees were fired, the district was working on a “win-win” formula with the lessee of Kingsgate Mall.
Mall operator Beedie Industrial rents the land for $750,000 a year, and according to Bacchus, the company was “interested in doing a joint approach” in redeveloping the site.
Bacchus said this would have involved the district selling air rights only, but not the land, to Beedie Industrial, which in turn will build condos above a new mall.
The revenue from the sale of the air rights will provide capital funding for the school board. Meanwhile, the lessee will continue paying rent that goes into the district’s operating fund.
“We thought it’s a win-win, where we would get some capital, some increased operating funding, and also retain the ownership [of the land],” Bacchus said.
Based on B.C. Assessment’s valuation, the land, where Kingsgate Mall is located and which contains an entire city block, is worth at least $79 million as of July 1, 2015.
The entire board was fired on October 17 by Education Minister Mike Bernier, who appointed Dianne Turner as official trustee in the district.
Bacchus recalled that Bernier had wanted the board to sell Kingsgate Mall, and use part of the proceeds to balance its operating budget.
According to Bacchus, the board as well as district staff refused the minister’s suggestion to utilize the revenue from the potential sale of the property for operating purposes. She pointed out that Section 100 the School Act provides that money from the disposition of lands can only be used for capital purposes.
Bacchus recalled that in a June 28, 2016 letter to then Vancouver school board chair Mike Lombardi, Bernier stated that Section 100 does not apply to Kingsgate Mall.
“He wrote a letter to the school board in June saying that in his opinion … this site could be exempted, because it wasn’t clear in the records specifically what it was purchased for. Now, I would challenge that because it was at one time a school site. It is a former school land,” Bacchus said.
The former trustee added: “I don’t know that legally, if the minister has the authority to override legislation.”
Previously, a budget shortfall of $15 million has been projected for the next school year of 2017-2018.
The district typically approves its operating budget in April before the opening of classes in September for the new school year.
Bacchus suspects that Kingsgate Mall could be in play even before this next budget round.