City Council to vote on 2023 lease agreement for Kingston Penitentiary

Kingstonist file photo of Kingston Penitentiary.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, Kingston City Council will be asked to approve an agreement between the City and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC) to offer tours and other activities at Kingston Penitentiary (KP) throughout the 2023 season. A report circulating in advance of Tuesday’s meeting calls on councillors to approve a deal which would see the City receive $267,400 in revenue in order to deliver tourism and other community activities at the shuttered institution from April 1 to Oct. 31, 2023. 

The proposed deal would earn the City $38,2000 per month throughout the seven-month arrangement. Alternatively, should the lease be extended to include November, the rate would change to $40,116 per month, for a total revenue of $320,928. 

According to the report, “From 2016 to 2019, the City of Kingston had partnership agreements with Correctional Service [of] Canada (CSC) and St. Lawrence Parks Commission to access and offer guided public tours at Kingston Penitentiary.” In 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Council voted to enter into a multi-year lease with CSC to offer public tours and other opportunities, at a total cost of $1.1 million per year. 

Given that the pandemic presented significant restrictions to museums, exhibitions, and other public activities, the multi-year agreement was put on hold. In 2020 and 2021, SLPC rented the former prison directly from CSC, providing limited public tours. At the same time, Tourism Kingston and the Kingston Film Office worked with CSC to rent out the venue for film production activities

The staff report notes that, in 2022, talks between the three parties resumed to see if a long-term deal similar to the one negotiated in 2020 could be reached. “City staff reviewed options for a KP lease agreement with CSC and determined that a [year-round] lease would not be financially feasible at this point.” Instead, staff determined that a six-month lease of the property, from May through October, would be the preferred option. 

Council approved a 2022 lease agreement, which eventually included four subsequent extensions. According to the report, the City was able to establish a “service agreement” with SLPC, generating $20,000 a month in revenue for the City. The City also continued to work with its partners at Tourism Kingston and the Kingston Film Office to secure film production agreements at the facility

In terms of expenses and revenues from the 2022 season, the staff report notes a significant discrepancy between projected revenue and what the City actually received. While the initial agreement projected revenue of $400,000, the 2022 season only generated $151,945, leading to a loss of $85,932. The report attributes much of the losses to “difficulties experienced by the film industry.” 

Staff also note that plans for additional special events at KP were not realized in time. “Special events that were forecasted at KP for 2022 (such as weddings, food and beverage [sic], and conferences) did not materialize to the extent initially planned, due to the late start of operations at the site and promoting the use of KP as a destination.”

In addition to the 2023 agreement, councillors are also being asked to approve an amendment to the 2022 lease agreement to “retroactively increase the rate of $20,000 per month to $36,700 per month, for a total of $220,200… to cover the 2022 City operational deficit for the Kingston Penitentiary lease agreement.” 

For the upcoming tourism season, the report says “planning and promotion will need to begin in early 2023 in order to maximize and confirm such opportunities for the coming year.” The 2023 lease is expected to cover a seven-month period, with an estimated price tag of $306,062, while revenues are expected to total $307,400, leading to a profit of $1,388. Should the lease be extended to include November, the report projects a profit of $7,000. 

The report also includes details on the continued use of KP as a popular destination for film production. Staff are recommending the City continue to partner with Tourism Kingston and the Kingston Film Board, offering up the former prison for film production from April 1 to Oct. 31, 2023, at a rate of $5,000 per day for production days, and $2,500 per day for setup and takedown days. 

Lastly, staff are recommending the City continue to work with various partners to prepare the necessary arrangements for the 2024 tourism season. 

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