The Red Gate story: when it comes to public safety, life trumps art

When city bylaw inspectors issued an “order to vacate” to the owner of the Red Gate, the long-standing cultural hub at 152-156 East Hastings, councillors’ in boxes and twitter feeds began to light up with angry comments from people who saw the order as an attack on the arts.

In fact, the city was striking a blow for the arts and artists by insisting the building not be used as long as very real fire and public safety threats exist. Repeated efforts to get the landlord to upgrade have so far failed.

Mayor Gregor Robertson summed up this situation nicely in this e-mail to those who contacted him:

Thanks for writing about the Red Gate. I want to clarify some misinformation that is out there. The City’s issue is not with the Red Gate, it’s with the building owner. There are serious safety concerns with the building that the owner has not addressed, despite several meetings with city staff.
An inspection in January found a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure a base level of safety. Key concerns centered on the lack of fire detection and protection systems (alarms and sprinklers), fire extinguishers, exit signage, emergency lighting and the building’s exit stairs.
These are simple – but serious – things that need to be fixed. City staff from our Cultural Services and Downtown Eastside Planning Group as well as the Building Inspection Department have met with the owner several times to discuss these issues, as recently as last week.
If the building owner puts forward an upgrade plan, and demonstrates a commitment to starting it, the City will reconsider the order to vacate. To date, no such plan has been given to the City – despite several attempts by the City to ask for one over the past six months.
What is most frustrating is that the City actually provides money to support building owners and arts groups in these situations. There are programs and grants for groups that operate in the DTES. We have cultural infrastructure grants, which can be spent on upgrades and renovations.
We want the Red Gate to stay open. I’ve said to staff I want to see it stay open. But if the building owner refuses to make basic safety renovations, the City has no choice but to close it.
Thanks for taking the time to write.

Gregor Robertson