The Whitehorse Curling Club made an impassioned plea to the city Monday, asking it to reconsider a planned rent hike.
“Our members cannot afford the cost associated with [the rent increase],” said Mark Evans, president of the curling club. “At best, it will cause us to run a deeper deficit. At worst, it could bankrupt the club.”
The city is looking to raise the rent for the space the club leases at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre.
It’s an increase of 113 per cent over the length of the proposed 10-year lease agreement, from $30,000 to $63,929 a year.
That’s just too much for the club and its 300-plus members to absorb, said Evans.
With bar sales and bingo attendance down, the club has been struggling to raise money as it is, he said.
Last year, it ran a $12,000 deficit.
“Entering into this lease agreement will push the club to the breaking point,” said Evans.
The club proposed what it thought was a more equitable solution: a five-year lease with a three per cent increase per year.
Anything much more than that just wouldn’t be feasible for the club, said Evans.
The rent hike is spurred by council’s direction to the planning department to recover 50 per cent of the maintenance costs on all the space it leases.
In the interest of fairness, the city developed a formula that based rent on the amount of space tenants use.
Because the curling club uses 66 per cent of the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre, its costs are set to jump.
The Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club, on the other hand, which only uses 18 per cent of the centre, will see its lease rate drop by more than $2,000 in the first year.
But for the curling club, which spends $100,000 a year just to maintain the ice at the centre, that formula doesn’t work, said Evans.
City council seemed to agree with him.
“For a club like this it just seems like an excessive amount,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. “Especially since Mount Sima only pays one dollar a year for their lease.”
After two other delegates spoke in defence of the curling club, Irwin said she was left with the impression that “the club has not been treated well in these negotiations.”
It really wasn’t much of a negotiation at all, said Evans.
“We had one meeting with the city. We presented our position. Administration went off and came back with what I can see as virtually the same lease agreement,” he said. “Essentially we were told, ‘This is the lease agreement. You want to take it up with council, you’re welcome to,’ so here I am today.”
While the planning department was in charge of negotiations, it was council’s direction that put them in such an uncompromising and “awkward position,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai.
The negotiators were just trying to meet the goals that the city set.
“Going into the room, I was under the impression that we were negotiating between 50 and 100 per cent (cost recovery),” said Pat Ross, the city’s land development supervisor, who represented Whitehorse in the negotiations. “I’d be happy to take something back to the table, but there’s only so much negotiation you can do when it comes down to the dollars.”
But the city isn’t counting all the dollars, said Pillai, especially all the in-kind contributions that the curling club makes.
If the city were to sit down and add up all the volunteer hours that the curling club puts in staffing the Grey Mountain Room at Mount McIntyre, and compare it to the cost of having a unionized employee there, it would add up quickly, he said.
“When we come back and set a lease, we take into consideration that we’re offsetting labour costs and [operations and maintenance costs] for the parks and recreation department,” said Pillai.
All the councillors appeared in favour of taking another look at the lease agreement.
“I believe we have to go back to the table and take some of these things into consideration,” said Coun. Florence Roberts.
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