Queen’s Grad Club facing uncertainty with rising costs

The Grad Club. Photo via Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) wire.

The Grad Club, a non-profit social club at Queen’s University, 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 Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans that were acquired during the pandemic, and also needs to address a number of infrastructure issues that have arisen in the building, according to a release from the club’s Board of Directors

This coincides with what the Board of Directors said is a 400 per cent 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 overlapping factors 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, said 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 said that 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 per cent increase…”

That rent increase will phase in over five years starting in September 2024, according to those with the Grad Club.

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

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

“Its 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 per cent 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 said 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 hopes to boost income by increasing membership of both students and non-students in the city. 

Located at 162 Barrie Street, The Grad Club is 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 said, The Grad Club also can’t find support from the City of Kingston’s newly green-lit music strategy due to their affiliation with Queen’s University and the support it receives from the university.

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

“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 said 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.

Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI). The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

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