Edmonton community leagues could move toward profit model

Edmonton’s community leagues may enter the profit-making arena next year, if council approves an amendment to the current agreement, which expires at the end of 2021.

Amended agreement with city would allow leagues to make money

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues marked its 100th anniversary in November by opening a new plaza in Hawrelak Park. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Edmonton's community leagues may enter the profit-making arena next year if council agrees to amend the current 10-year agreement, which expires at the end of 2021.

The three-way agreement currently allows leagues to offer public recreation programs and services on a not-for-profit basis only. 

Rob Smyth, deputy manager of citizen services, said the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues asked the city to change the agreement among the EFCL, individual leagues and the City of Edmonton. 

A new agreement would let leagues offer businesses and for-profit organizations space to hold a variety of privately run classes — for example yoga, kickboxing and dance — on league grounds or in their halls. 

"This could increase league revenues and decrease pressure on volunteer boards to provide public rec programs and services," Smyth said.

"This request, obviously, is increasingly urgent as COVID-19 continues to negatively impact hall rentals and programming opportunities."

Council's community and public services committee reviewed the proposal at a meeting Wednesday. Council as a whole will be asked to approve the amended contract next week. 

Laura Cunningham-Shpeley, president of the EFCL, said the new deal would be a meaningful change for neighbourhoods. 

"This is very timely," she said. "This is a big step in providing options for leagues to explore new ways of animating their halls as they move into 2021."

Many community leagues are on municipal reserve land, which under the current agreement requires them to be used for recreational purposes and not for commercial purposes. The current model often leaves league buildings unused for large parts of the day, Cunningham-Shpeley said.

Sense of urgency

Of the city's 161 community leagues, 133 operate under the current agreement.

Coun. Mike Nickel noted there's a sense of urgency for the change, to allow leagues to tap into more reliable sources of income. 

"What I've understood across my ward is that we're looking at severe operating deficits because of halls being shut down for weddings and so on," Nickel said.

Cunningham-Shpeley said relaxing the rules would allow leagues to explore revenue streams and partnerships.

Under the new model it could be possible for communities to partner with coffee shops to generate income and provide a place where people can meet.

A company or business using a community hall would have to bring its own insurance, Cunningham-Shpeley said. 

Coun. Aaron Paquette said he's concerned about potential conflicts of interest if family members or friends of league board members are given easier access to business opportunities. 

"I want to put a big warning on that," Paquette said. "That we really need to have a robust system to avoid conflict of interest, otherwise this whole effort I think is going to become very problematic in our communities." 

Cunningham-Shpeley said each league, as a non-profit society, has bylaws to follow and is required to report to members. The leagues would also need approval from the city on sub-licensing agreements.

Smyth said his team will make the updated agreement a priority to finish by early next year.  



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