Kickstand is a community bike shop located in the basement of a squat, former banquet and bingo hall at the corner of Commercial Drive and Venables Street in Vancouver. A larger-than-life painting of a blue and white banana-seat marks the entrance. Downstairs, a row of bike-repair stands is flanked by work tables; on the wall, bike tools are lined up in neat, orderly rows, outlines painted to mark their place.
Vancouver – with its healthy network of bike lanes and year-round cycling weather – is a bike-friendly city. Founding member George Rahi says Kickstand empowers Vancouver cyclists, particularly young people and low-income people, by teaching basic maintenance skills and self-sufficiency at affordable rates.
But Vancouver's notoriously high real estate prices have put a squeeze on local arts and community groups such as Mr. Rahi's, and many have fallen victim.
In early 2013, facing "rocky finances," W2 Community Media Arts Society shuttered its media spaces and café at the Woodwards building. After a handful of successful years, the Olio musical and arts festival ceased in 2013, its volunteer organizers citing, in part, the overwhelming annual need to raise $50,000-$75,000 to sustain the festival. In 2011, the Red Gate Arts Society was evicted from its space on Hastings Street after the city demanded extensive safety-related renovations on its building; similar fates befell VIVO Media Arts, Spartacus Books and the Junction in 2013.
When Mr. Rahi was first looking to start Kickstand, the costs of opening a community shop seemed nearly insurmountable. But it did open in September, 2012, thanks to an arrangement between the Britannia Community Services Centre and a local builder, Boffo Properties, which purchased the land at Commercial and Venables with the intention of creating a mixed-used development in partnership with a local mental-health services centre, Kettle Friendship Society.
Like many developments in Vancouver, this one has its share of controversy and is, for the moment, bound up in red tape. So, while Boffo Properties navigates the community consultation process and awaits the city's go-ahead, it leases the old banquet and bingo hall to the Britannia Community Services Centre. Britannia operates the upper floors of the building as flexible programming space, and Kickstand runs out of the basement, as what Mr. Rahi refers to as a "satellite program" of Britannia.
The site's property tax class changed after Britannia moved in – from business to recreational/non-profit. Daniel Boffo of Boffo Properties says savings from this tax break are rolled directly into Britannia's lease.
He says the benefit to Boffo of subsidizing Britannia's use of the space is twofold: The developer avoids potential "negative spillover" from renting to a short-term, event-oriented tenant and gains an opportunity to contribute to the community.
"To be able to provide them with a space was a benefit not just for Britannia but for the community as a whole," Mr. Boffo says. "It was a win-win."
Cynthia Low, the executive director at Britannia Community Services Centre, calls the lease a "case study for creating 'space' out of underutilized buildings to benefit community." Ms. Low says we need to rethink the paradigm of community centres, shifting from a model that solely consists of municipal ownership to one that achieves part integration with business.
Another bicycle group, Our Community Bikes, a thriving shop that had been located on Main Street for 23 years, got a recent lesson in the perils of acquiring space in the city.
Forced to move by a spike in lease rates and to accommodate its growing business and programming needs, the group searched for two years for a suitable space. Mechanic Jesse Cooper says the process was "extremely challenging."
"We looked at all sorts of different spaces," he says, "and either we could afford them but they wouldn't suit our needs, or the design wasn't good, or it was a poor location."
Our Community Bikes eventually left its $4,000-a-month, 1,000-square-foot lease at 3283 Main St. for a $5,500-a-month, 1,800-square foot lease at 2429 Main St. The move has been tough, costing crucial sales in the prime bike-buying season.
Kickstand's deal with Boffo gives it an affordable space, but Mr. Rahi sees it as something of a double-edged sword: The current rent, roughly $1,000 a month, is about one-quarter of what it would have to pay otherwise. But its future is precarious, dependent on the development's approval.
"There's a dangerous precedent," Mr. Rahi says, "where just the very nature of having community space starts to become understood as always temporary, always moving around – not having a support network set up where community groups can somehow achieve a long-term space without constantly being under threat.
"Kickstand and the other community groups in this building have added a tremendous amount of value to the neighbourhood," he says.
Mr. Rahi estimates that the shop serves about 300 people a month, on top of providing skill-building and skill-sharing workshops for volunteers. "It's tough to know that it all ends at a certain point and is replaced by unaffordable housing."
Brittania and Kickstand's relationship with Boffo is a new arrangement of a wider trend in space-scarce Vancouver – previous iterations include pop-up shops and art spaces, and community gardens, which offer tax breaks and temporary community beautification for empty, predevelopment lots.
Ms. Low says these arrangements have a part to play in Vancouver's future. "Ultimately, these kinds of community centres should never replace publicly owned and operated community centres. But there is a role for pop-up community spaces to better utilize buildings and to activate different kinds of neighbourhoods in different ways.
"The Kickstand project is a pilot in some ways, and exemplary in so many ways, but there was no way to test that model without committing a whole bunch of resources to it. And this way, with support from the developer, plus also the support from Britannia, we were able to test the model."
Although he's uncertain about the future, Mr. Rahi has no regrets. "Given the climate of real estate and the difficulty of getting space, I think sure I'm going to say that I'm glad that we did it."