City of Edmonton takes control of Boyle Street Plaza, citing mismanagement by community league

The City of Edmonton is taking back control of the Boyle Street Plaza from the area’s community league after five years, citing mismanagement by the community league.

The community league has run the new plaza for five years but was using up reserve funds

The City of Edmonton is taking back control of the Boyle Street Plaza from the community league. Beginning Aug. 31, it will be run by the YMCA although the community will still have access. (Google Street View)

The City of Edmonton is taking back control of the Boyle Street Plaza from the area's community league after five years, citing mismanagement by the league.

Boyle Street Plaza first opened in November 2012, with a gymnasium, meeting rooms, a kitchen and even a small theatre. It was run by the Boyle Street Community League, which paid the city $27,000 a year in rent.

The community league could rent out the space for events to generate revenue, in addition to charging for membership fees.

According to Jordan Reiniger, the community league's treasurer, the league was analyzing its financial situation early last year when it realized its current — and long-term — fiscal health was in jeopardy.

Revenues, he said, were on average about $100,000 short of its $240,000 operating budget.

"The bulk of revenue comes from rental income, working casinos and then different grants community leagues get from the city," Reiniger said Thursday.

Boyle Street is the only league in Edmonton that operates a recreation facility as part of its building, which increases the league's operating costs.

"It wasn't sustainable," said Candas Jane Dorsey, the league's vice-president. "We'd used up reserves."

League officials requested a meeting with the city in spring 2017 to discuss ways to improve sustainability. They had prepared a variety of options, including a rent easement, cutting utility costs or being designated for community revitalization funding.

But in December, amidst high employee turnover and turmoil within the community league, the city suddenly terminated the 25-year lease arrangement.

Dorsey called the move "a real bombshell."

"We come to this meeting and this bomb is dropped and [we were] like, 'You did this without our consent,'" Dorsey told CBC's Radio Active.

"[Then they said], 'Well, we don't need your consent, we'll just terminate the lease.'"

Dorsey said the league's requests to meet weren't accommodated by the city. 

She acknowledged there were staffing issues, but says they were resolved internally. The city's action, she added, made the community league feel like it wasn't in control.

"Yes those things were happening, but there were no meetings to discuss it," Dorsey said.

But the city said it had been raising concerns since 2016 about how the community league was handling the building operations.

"Some of the concerns that came to our attention were that people had rentals booked and when they arrived ... there wasn't anybody there," said Chantile Shannon, the neighbourhood services director for the City of Edmonton.

"Generally they just didn't appear to have the capacity to do all of the various things that are part of operating the facility."

Not about money

Shannon said the city sends a representative to the monthly meetings held by community league.

In those meetings, Shannon said the representative brought concerns about community league mismanagement to the members.

"This wasn't really so much about money and rent as it was about supporting the community league to fulfil its core mandate of providing programs and services, connecting with the community and building their capacity to market their programs," Shannon told CBC's Radio Active.

"We felt quite strongly that the issue can't be solved by just putting more money into things."

The city gave the league six months notice that as of Aug. 31, the YMCA will take over operations of the building. While the league will not control the building, Shannon said that doesn't mean it would lose access to the plaza.

"We definitely want the league to have a presence at Boyle Plaza and in the community," she said.

Shannon said part of the league's lease included a $20,000 operating grant from the city. Although she wouldn't say how much the YMCA will receive for taking it over, she said it would be comparable to what they gave the league.

Part of the city's expectation is for the league to grow its membership and volunteer group. If those things happen, the city would be prepared to hand control back to the league in the next few years, Shannon said. 

"We're committed to supporting them through that process," Shannon said. "We just need to negotiate the details with them."

Shannon is scheduled to meet with Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues on March 27 to discuss options for how to move forward. There will also be a mediated meeting between the Boyle Street Community League, the city, YMCA and the federation but the date for that has not been set.

with files from Tanara McLean