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Granville Island's fate uncertain despite federal funding boost

Last Updated Jul 19, 2020 at 11:23 pm PDT

(Photo Courtesy Granville Island)

$16.7 million from the feds won't be enough to keep the Island viable, especially without the return of tourists

Property manager David McCann says it's possible his company won't have a future past the Spring

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) —  Emergency funding from the federal government might not be enough to keep Granville Island afloat amid COVID-19, according to one property manager.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) runs Granville Island but contracts out its property management to others, including David McCann with Creekhouse Industries.

He says the $16.7 million in emergency funding will offer some short term relief but isn’t enough to ensure the continued operation of one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

“It won’t make the difference as to whether or not we survive. We think we’ve got enough money to get us through until February, maybe March of next year” McCann says.

“Basically, at some point in time, we’re going to have to look at it and say– this thing isn’t viable. And we don’t know when that’s going to be. There’s no filing cabinet you can go to and pull out a set of plans, there’s no book you can get off the shelf, there’s no one you can phone. Nobody in the world has a clue what to do. Everybody is flying by the seat of their pants.”

McCann says the Island has a “complicated rent structure.”

For tenants renting directly from CMHC, the emergency funding will go a long way. But for lessors like himself, rent is only a small portion of expenses.

“The rent that we pay to CMHC is about 15 per cent on average of our revenue. So, it doesn’t really help us a lot because then we have on top of that we have to pay our property taxes, our insurance, and all those other costs,” he says.

Businesses that rent or manage on Granville Island aren’t eligible for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program because their broader landlord — CMHC — is a crown corporation.

But he also says no amount of funding from the feds will be enough to make up for the absence of tourists.

“It relies on a large volume of people. It is the number two tourist location in Canada, it’s 18th in the world — believe it or not — and unless people start coming back, I’m not sure the Island will survive,” he explains.

“Is a return to normal something that is going to happen in the short term? We might not go back to normal, and without some semblance of normal I don’t think a lot of business will survive, not just Granville Island. And that is a terrifying thought. Other than the public market, there’s very little essential services down here.”

McCann says the last time he collected rent was in March.

“We were one of the first commercial landlords in B.C. to forgive rent,” he says, stressing there is no expectation that this rent will be repaid.

“We said, ‘You don’t owe it to us. We’re going to share the pain with you.'”

The 74-year-old McCann says the pandemic is unlike anything he has witnessed and survived and he is alarmed by surges in cases south of the border.

“If we don’t keep this under control, it could literally take society as we know it and it could be changed forever. And that’s what terrifies me.”