A two-year dream to build a community arts space at Hope United Church has been dashed after the board narrowly voted down the ambitious proposal in late February.
The Neighbourhood Centre, along with several other community organizations, planned to develop the basement of the Main Street and Danforth Avenue church into a community hub, but on Feb. 24, the church board voted five to three against the proposal.
Beryl Tsang, interim executive director of the centre, said she was disappointed by the board’s decision. She has been working to repurpose the church space with Rev. Douglas duCharme of Hope United for more than two years.
The Neighbourhood Centre was set to deliver a proposal for $1 million of funding over three years to the Ontario Trillium Foundation Community Fund and Capital Fund. That is, until the board voted against the plan.
“We’ve put a lot of goodwill into this project,” said Tsang. “The community really needs the space.”
While duCharme agrees there is a significant need for more community space in the neighbourhood says it has been a challenge for the aging congregation at Hope United to accept an ambiguous proposal. He said the board did not know who exactly would be using the space and they were given no guarantees of any income they would receive from the project.
“(The board) really couldn’t process that uncertainty and (couldn’t) join in as part of a collaborative process with the other groups,” he said.
Tsang says that while the proposal didn’t name specific groups that would be using the space, it did identify communities that were in need of the space, such as the neighbourhood’s youth population.
“What they had a hard time with was the fact that we were talking about populations in the community,” she said. “They wanted specifically named groups and organizations like the Girl Guides, like the Boy Scouts.”
The church is a massive 80 year old relic built to accommodate the hundreds of congregation members who once attended the church. However, duCharme says he is now lucky to get 35 people out to a Sunday service leaving the church largely underused but with more than 650 square metres of space in the basement alone.
After community consultations and a 2009 feasibility study, the Neighbourhood Centre, a referral and programming facility for the Taylor Massey community, developed a proposal to renovate the church and create an arts related community space with meeting rooms, offices, performance space as well as a street-level cafe and gallery.
The new space would require the church to commit to extensive renovations in return for use of the space. Proponents of the initiative think the renovations would make the church more inviting to the community and would help revitalize the neighbourhood.
The church was once a community hub said duCharme but it has become disconnected from the neighbourhood over the years. He believes the arts space would have provided a much-needed link back to the community.
“A church that is disconnected from its community is like a fish out of water,” he said.
Ellen Curtis, coordinator of the Neighbourhood Youth Alliance, said the youth she works with were hoping to develop the basement of the church into a space youth arts and entrepreneurial activities.
“We know that young people need a safe place to gather and meet and to share their ideas,” she said. “(This) will still happen somewhere else, it’s just that it will take longer.”
It’s now unknown when a community arts space will be built. The Neighbourhood Centre is looking for new spaces to develop but Tsang says there is a real shortage of space available.
“We could develop Hope (United) and there still wouldn’t be enough space for youth.”
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