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Queen’s Grad Club facing uncertainty with rising costs

Last Updated on March 17, 2024 by Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Grad Club has launched an emergency fundraising campaign to combat multiple factors that the Board of Directors say are causing unprecedented financial hardship.

Like other small businesses in the country, The Grad Club is faced with the repayment of the CEBA loans that were acquired during the pandemic, and also needs to address a number of infrastructure issues that have arisen in the building.

This is coinciding with what the Board of Directors say is a 400% rent increase from the building’s landlord, Queen’s University.

Gabriella Castillo Raga, President of Queen’s Grad Club Board of Directors, said all these factors compiled together have become too much for The Grad Club to continue as normal, and it will need help to survive.

“The Club would have had the ability to cope with each one of these setbacks individually, but because they all happened so close together, we are now in a precarious financial position,” said Castillo Raga.

“We are asking for help from the broad community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, artists, musicians, performers, and Kingstonians who have loved and been impacted by the Grad Club over the years.”

The Grad Club’s General Manager, Virginia Clark, says that Queen’s has always subsidized the rent for the Club, with rents remaining stable since 2013.

Now with austerity measures coming into play for the university, supporting The Grad Club with a continued rent freeze is one of the things Queen’s is backing away from.

Clark says while it’s not the sole problem, the rent increase is rather extreme and a lot to face in a short amount of time.

“When you’re already a small little nonprofit like ourselves and a big mansion of a house, it’s hard,” Clark said.

“We understand that… they have to increase the rent, but it was just quite a bit for us, you know, 400% increase…”

That rent increase will phase in over five years starting in September 2024.

In a statement, Queen’s says it has always supported the Grad Club, but it’s capital investments into the building have well outpaced the amount accrued from rent, this change is meant to bring those two totals more in line.

The university says it feels a five year span is enough time for The Grad Club to prepare for and adapt to the new rent.

“Its [The Grad Club] rent has not increased in more than a decade and is more than four times below typical, commercial rent for a similar-sized property in Kingston. Further, the university provided 100% rent relief for almost two years during the pandemic,” the university’s statement read.

“The operating costs and required capital investment have far exceeded the rent for several years… The university’s goal is to reduce the gap between the rent and the significant capital investments that have been, and will continue to be, required.”

Clark says The Grad Club bridges “town and gown” and is a unique part of Kingston in that way.

While it’s most often frequented by Queen’s students, and sometimes classes, it is accessible to anyone in Kingston, and the Club will hope to boost income by increasing membership of both students and non-students in the city.

The Grad Club acts as a multipurpose space that’s rather unique to other establishments in Kingston, and it acts as a performance venue, bringing in an interesting lineup of musicians on a routine basis.

Despite that, Clark says, The Grad Club also can’t find support from the City of Kingston’s newly greenlit music strategy due to their affiliation with Queen’s University.

With the changes being imposed on them from Queen’s however, Clark says it’s hard to see where that support and affiliation is actually coming from.

“We don’t really fall in that because we’re affiliated with the university, even though we’re a nonprofit independent, it’s the affiliation that wipes us out,” Clark said.

“Where does the affiliation rest is a very good question that we’re asking right now ourselves… we’re under their jurisdiction but when it comes to funding or anything like that, we’re separate.”

While Clark says that’s cause for frustration, she doesn’t blame the university for the situation The Grad Club is in; but regardless of what caused it, she feels the space is needed and the effort needs to be made to save it.

The Grad Club is currently accepting donations, and will also be announcing fundraising events in the near future.

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Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporterhttp://ygknews.ca
Born and raised in Whitby, Ontario, Owen has been living in Kingston for about three years after starting the band Willy Nilly. Prior to that he worked at CKLB radio in Yellowknife and completed studies in Niagara College's Broadcasting program.

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