Why did Lacey-Lou’s lose out?

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On June 2, 2015, Lacey-Lou Tapas Lounge announced its eviction from 1320 Broad St. after re-opening for a final night on June 1. The lounge had been operating in a building owned by UVic since April 2014, but had fallen in dire financial straits the following year.

Lacey-Lou’s functioned as a community space, hosting various poetry, art, and music events. Last year, UVic’s English Student Association (ESA) held multiple events at the bar including the performing art series Unreal City, as well as the ESA’s monthly mixers.

The lounge was donated to UVic by Michael Williams in 2001. Williams spent his life renovating heritage buildings in downtown Victoria, and when he passed away at age 70 in 2000, he bequeathed various buildings to the university. Williams intended for these properties to financially support the school, and to encourage the flourishing of art and education in the city.

A statement released by Lacey-Lou’s when it closed said, “Several of [Williams’] former friends and colleagues said he would have been over the moon to see what Lacey-Lou had brought to the downtown core, in one of his own buildings.”

So what happened?

Former Lacey-Lou’s founder and operator Natasha Grau-Ensminger said that despite Lacey-Lou’s popularity and support, the costs of building renovations were unpredictable, and they eventually caused the closure.

“Our estimated two months [of] renovations [before opening] turned into seven, with our costs at almost double what we had anticipated. We uncovered many issues with the heritage space . . . For a year we fought our landlords to be reimbursed for structural costs, but sadly in the end they had deeper pockets than ours and a legal battle just wasn’t financially possible,” said Grau-Ensminger.

“The lounge hosted several university groups, and therefore I hoped UVic would show more support.”

Paul Marck of UVic’s Media Relations and Public Affairs department said that tenants in the building “operate under a lease agreement with UVic through UVic Properties.” Marck said that building maintenance is a matter of the tenant and landlord agreement. He added, “We’re dealing with a bunch of heritage buildings here . . . so there are inherent challenges in a legacy building that may . . . prove to be difficult to deal with for modern tenants.”

President and CEO of UVic Properties Peter Kuran explained that UVic Properties has a financial responsibility to maintain revenue for the university through the buildings donated by Williams. Kuran said that UVic Properties tried to help Grau-Ensminger by suggesting that she opt out of her lease agreement when she initially struggled with renovation costs.

“[Lacey-Lou’s claimed to be] for the good of the public art scene, or the art scene in the downtown. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that, but that’s not our mandate. Our mandate is to deliver the money to the university,” said Kuran.

Emma Hamill, former ESA president, said that Lacey-Lou’s support for ESA functions was appreciated and valued. “I know some people [still involved in the ESA who are] continuing to look for new venues . . . and they’re hoping to continue similar events.”

For now, the building has recently been purchased by the owners of Wheelies Motorcycles & Cafe, and has become a bar and barber shop called Saint Franks. According to Kuran, Saint Franks will have no affiliation with UVic.

Grau-Ensminger said, “It is bitter sweet, but I am glad that a local business which I respect is taking over the space. They too support other local businesses and will offer a positive and friendly space to the community.”

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  • Ivan Marko

    one day we will look back at these times when decent enterprises are driven out because of “dire financial straits” and wonder how we could have been so short-sighted to let ourselves be ruled by arbitrary numbers on plasticpaper, metal and in cyberspace.