Boyle Street Plaza. Paula E. Kirman
As Boyle McCauley News celebrates the theme of Home this issue, the Boyle Street Community League, ironically, is having control of their home at the Boyle Street Community Centre removed, and may be losing their home altogether.
News broke in Edmonton media in late March that the City of Edmonton decided to end the lease the Boyle Street Community League has at Boyle Street Plaza (9538 103A Avenue). It has been a contentious decision, and one that arouses strong feelings among community members, especially those who were involved in creating the new community centre and carrying on the community league.
For many decades, the Boyle Street Community League had a building on a large field at the corner of 95 Street and 103A Avenue. That building was expropriated by the City to build what is now the Boyle Renaissance project, which includes Boyle Street Plaza. The terms of the deal included the City planning the community centre with the League, then leasing it to the Community League to use as its facility and to rent out for income.
In early 2017, the BSCL board was doing budget projections and determined that unless something changed with respect to the rent arrangement with the City, the BSCL would be running into financial trouble within three years.
“Being pro-active,” wrote BSCL treasurer Jordan Reiniger, “we went to the City, as our partner, to brainstorm ways to make the model more sustainable.” As is true with every other recreation facility in the City, the BSCL cannot recoup the cost of operating the Plaza just from rental income, especially when the league is trying to provide affordable programming to Boyle Street and area.
The board’s request led to a meeting with the Director of Neighbourhood Services and other City officials in June of 2017, at which the League presented a number of options, including potential rent relief; a grant to cover the shortfall; adding our building to the City of Edmonton’s recreation booking system; and, in the long term, working towards becoming a new Community Revitalization area, whatever form that program takes in the future. (Community Revitalization was the source of the funding that allowed McCauley and Alberta Avenue to transform their communities.)
“The City staff members said that they could not provide any financial relief because that has to go to council, and would ‘set a precedent’,” continues Reiniger, “but that they would go away and look at what they could do. We made it clear that we wanted to be involved in the decision-making process, as this had a significantly impact on our community. They assured us we would be part of the process. After the June meeting, we did not hear from the City on the matter for more than six months, despite multiple requests for an update. Finally, in December of 2017, we were summoned to Edmonton Tower to meet with City officials. We were excited to continue the conversation and work out a possible solution.”
That excitement was immediately replaced with shock. The BSCL board discovered that the purpose of the meeting was to tell them that the City of Edmonton planned to terminate their 25-year lease (something either party can do with six months’ notice) and instead enter into an agreement with the YMCA to take over the building for 3-5 years. Rather than supporting the BSCL, the City would give similar funds to the YMCA to cover the shortfall in revenues. While the exact amount of these funds is not available to the League, the board does know that the numbers have been drawn from the League’s own budget figures, as provided to the City in good faith.
“After meeting with our City Councillor, Scott McKeen, we determined that our best course of action was to engage in the facilitated conversation and get the best possible deal for our community,” Reiniger continues. “While we believe the process was inappropriate and unjust, we owed the conversation a chance. We responded, by email, that we were willing to engage in the conversation but hoped that all options would remain on the table for discussion. That email was sent on January 16, 2018. Again, silence from the City. No response. No communication. Then, on February 28, the City of Edmonton sent us an email notifying us that they were terminating our lease effective August 2018.”
The City has offered to have a facilitated conversation between the YMCA, City of Edmonton, and the League to negotiate the terms of the BSCL’s exit or continuing presence in the Plaza, but as of press time, no meeting has been scheduled. The City has stated that they believe that the Board needs support, but has not made clear what form this would take.
Reiniger wrote an open letter to the community on the BSCL’s Facebook page, going on to say, “Instead of recognizing that this started with us asking them for help, the City now claims that our league was in turmoil and they had serious concerns about our ability to manage ‘their asset.’ Further, that they had brought those concerns to our attention on numerous occasions. When we pressed them on what the concerns were, they provided us a list of concerns brought to us through the Community Recreation Coordinator who attends our board meetings. The list was a set of routine concerns, provided over the course of a number of years, that one might expect when dealing with staff and operating a facility. At no time did the City correspond with us in writing or in person to inform us that their concerns were so grave that they were about to terminate a 25-year lease with their partner unless something was done. This would seem standard practice and good governance – not to mention good partnership – to take such a step and give the League time to resolve whatever those concerns were.”
The BSCL board points out that the League has been subsidizing the running of the building with reserves, but has never missed a payment or invoice. In addition, the board feels that after the proposed hiatus, if the BSCL is again expected to run the building with no subsidy, they will be “set up for failure” as the same unsustainable circumstances will still constrain the operation of the building. Even an organization the size of the YMCA was not willing to take on this burden without a substantial subsidy, so why would the community league be expected to break even with no help?
The Boyle Street Plaza is unlike any other community league facility in the city, and at the time of opening, the City promised support and an ongoing collegial relationship.
Reiniger wrote, “While we as a Community League freely admit there have been challenges, those challenges were not out of the ordinary for a volunteer-led organization. Those challenges were never related to managing of finances or creating a risk to the asset. Every issue brought to our attention was dealt with in due course.”
Community support for the League has resulted in some letters to City Council, but as things stand at press time, the League has been provided with a Notice to Terminate, and given the terms of the lease, this is within the rights of the City and BSCL has no recourse.
“We are going to engage in the discussion offered by the City to get the best deal possible for our neighbourhood,” writes Reiniger. “As we do this, we are reminded that the Community League is a not a building. It’s made up of the all residents who live in our amazing neighbourhood. We are an inclusive, creative, and resilient bunch. This situation will make our neighbourhood stronger.”
Be that as it may, the Boyle Street Community League board believes that the City’s actions have harmed rather than helped the community, and is encouraging community members to become involved in the League and work with the board to ensure that BSCL continues to have a home from which to serve the community.
Candas Jane Dorsey is a resident of Boyle Street and part of the Boyle Street Community League Board.