Richmond Hill ends discounted space rental at Centre for the Performing Arts
'It is disturbing that such a decision can be so arbitrarily made,' community leader Marj Andre says
April 18, 2019
Local not-for-profit community groups will take a hit to the wallet planning the next community event at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.
City council voted 4-3 to stop offering the discounted rate for community groups to rent space at the theatre.
The councillors made the decision after coming out of a closed session of council on April 9 with councillors Castro Liu and Godwin Chan absent.
“We are trying to be fiscally responsible. The purpose and intent for the Richmond Hill centre is for the performing arts, not renting a community space,” said Deputy Mayor Carmine Perrelli who introduced the member motion.
Mayor Dave Barrow, councillors Karen Cilevitz and David West voted against the motion.
In the original motion, Perrelli proposed to end the discounted rate for the rentals of the lobby and plaza suit area of the theatre.
Coun. Greg Beros, who seconded the motion, made an amendment to remove the wording of “lobby and plaza suit area,” which essential scraps the discounted rate for the rental of any community space at the theatre, such as the corporate lounge and mezzanine.
“We’re confused,” the mayor said as he spoke against the original motion and the amendment. “We don’t know the answers to most of the questions and we’re gonna go ahead and say we’re just gonna end it?”
Cilevitz and West were also not sold on the proposal, noting further information is needed to better understand the implications of the motion.
But neither of their efforts -- deferring the motion to a later date and referring it to the following committee of the whole meeting -- failed to carry on council as four other councillors voted them down.
The motion is the first of many steps that council will take to reduce the “burden on taxpayers” and “make the theatre self-reliant,” since it has been losing half-a-million dollars per year, Perrelli said.
As a result, community groups in the city can no longer rent any community space in the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts for $15 per hour, the discounted rate that has been offered since 2017.
“My group is the target,” said Marj Andre, who hosts Connection the Community (CTC), a weekly community event.
CTC is currently the only community group that has been regularly renting the lobby at the theatre for meeting purposes at the discounted rate, according to Meeta Ghandi, Richmond Hill spokesperson.
Ghandi said Richmond Hill has notified the group of the rate change.
Community groups can still enjoy the discounted rate renting at the community centres across Richmond Hill, she noted, but they’ll be charged the regular rate at about $68 per hour -- more than quadrupling the previous discounted rate -- if they rent space at the theatre.
“It is disturbing that such a decision can be so arbitrarily made,” Andre wrote in an email. “I had just signed a contract. Lawyer is looking into this.”
Every Tuesday morning, people from all sectors of the community gather at the theatre for the two-hour CTC event.
There is no attendance fee, but a minimum donation of $4 is requested at the event. The funds collected beyond the costs go to Hill House Hospice.
“Leasing out space at $15 per hour when the true cost is $68 per hour makes no business sense,” Perrelli said. “It is not sustainable, and not fair to taxpayers, especially when we have many community centres that can be utilized for the same purpose at a fraction of the cost.”
Community groups should be able to rent parts of the theatre as a community space, West argued, pointing out that the theatre, a tax-supported service, is not intended to make a profit.
“Charging one higher rate to every single community group no matter who they are to me defeats the entire purpose of the investment that we made in the entire community 10 plus years ago.”
Cilevitz agrees and worries the not-for-profit group will no longer be able to utilize the theatre given the regular rate.
Meanwhile, the councillor is “deeply concerned” about the potential financial implication of this move.
“An action such as this which will most likely preclude community groups or individuals from renting this facility would actually lower the amount of money that we as a city take in to help with the running cost of the theatre,” Cilevitz said.
“I believe a prudent question to ask here is ‘To what end?’”
Currently abroad, Andre cast her doubt over the timing of the motion which took place while she was away.
As a longtime resident in Richmond Hill, Andre has been a community leader in Richmond Hill who has organized and is actively involved in many community-building events. She also runs the community website onrichmondhill.com.
“I am mad, but my resolve to build a better community is strengthened.”