Victoria councillors decided Thursday to give the Victoria Silver Threads Society a $200,000 grant so it can move from its Douglas Street storefront — hopefully clearing up a decade-old debt in the process.
Silver Threads will relocate to 2340 Richmond Rd., a building formerly owned by the CNIB.
Board president Andy Robinson said he was “cautiously happy” with the compromise decision, which fell short of the amount of money the not-for-profit senior service provider was seeking.
“It’s going to be a bit of a challenge for us because we didn’t get all of the operating money we wanted. And because we didn’t get the property tax exemption, that’s going to be another few thousand dollars,” Robinson said.
“But the flexibility to use the $200,000 the way that we can — either for improvements or to help with the ongoing operations for the first few years — will definitely make it manageable for us.”
At the urging of Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, council made the grant contingent on receipt of a letter from Silver Threads acknowledging that it absolves the city of any further financial commitment related to the organization’s forced move in 2003.
Silver Threads has been in “temporary” city-leased storefronts on Douglas Street since it was moved out of its former city-owned building a decade ago. The city wanted to sell the building to make way for the Capital Regional District’s Fisgard Street headquarters.
At the time, the city promised to hold in reserve an estimated $500,000 from the sale of the building “to assist, as required, in funding the temporary and permanent relocation of the Silver Threads Society.”
With the city wanting it out of its Douglas Street location, Silver Threads made an offer to lease 5,200 square feet in the Richmond Road building. But the annual lease rate was $24,811 more than the Douglas Street lease.
Silver Threads last week asked the city to make up the difference for five years, as well as to provide $200,000 for relocation costs and tenant improvements — all of which it thought could be funded from the 2003 commitment. After meeting with city staff, it pared the one-time grant request to $150,600.
City staff argued against the increased operational funding, saying lease and operating costs for the past decade (which total $1.6 million) have more than eaten away any $500,000 reserve.
A staff report said one-time relocation costs could probably be reduced to $75,000.
At the suggestion of Coun. Geoff Young, council decided to keep annual operating funds at current levels but provide a one-time grant of $200,000 for Silver Threads to facilitate the move and offset additional costs over the next five years.
Coun. Lisa Helps said the decision allows Silver Threads to make its own operational decisions.
“It puts the responsibility for managing, for innovating, for creating, for doing all those things into the hands of the organization,” Helps said.
“I have read through the plan and I feel they are competent, capable and raring to go.”
Mayor Dean Fortin said he was happy that the city is moving forward in providing services for seniors, but cautioned the decision means the downtown core is losing the service.
“We will face some challenges,” Fortin said in an interview, noting that the services will no longer be available downtown at time that more housing is being built, bringing more people to live in the core.
“We’ll look for an opportunity to see how it works — how the relocation to … the neighbourhood by Royal Jubilee Hospital works for access by seniors and the amount of use that’s going on there. Certainly, we have an opportunity to evaluate it moving forward.”