Cafe debated
City approves $20,000 for Wildcat Cafe

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 26/00) - The Old Stope Association has succeeded in obtaining city dollars for the maintenance and repair of the Wildcat Cafe, but it wasnıt an easy task.

Tuesday eveningıs council discussion on providing the non-profit association with a $20,000 reimbursement for capital repairs at the city-owned heritage facility seemed to be running smoothly, until Coun. Cheryl Best sparked a debate.

At first, it appeared the funding request would be approved without any hitches, but that was before two councillors proposed amendments, both of which were defeated.

The debate stemmed from the conditions of a lease agreement the city signed with the Old Stope Association for the Wildcat Cafe.

In the lease, the city agreed the association would pay just one dollar per year to lease the restaurant on the condition that all profits would go towards the repair and maintenance of the building.

During a public presentation at Tuesdayıs council meeting, Mary McCreadie, board member for the Old Stope Association, stated the organization had put approximately $100,000 into the Wildcat Cafe over the past 20 years.

In response to a question from Coun. Best, McCreadie acknowledged the annual gross revenue of the Wildcat Cafe over the past six to eight years has fluctuated between $120,000 to $280,000.

After pondering the situation, Best expressed what she called a business concern.

She said the Wildcat Cafe, which operates three months per year, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Yellowknife.

Based on that fact, Best said she found it hard to understand how a non-profit organization running a business for that period of time, with a gross revenue of that magnitude, could not have any funding left over for capital improvements.

³Letıs say that they did $160,000 a year gross in business and their food cost was 50 per cent of that, that would leave the management of the Wildcat Cafe $80,000 to cover their overhead for a three-month period - wages, water, power ... but no rent,² Best said.

³If the business ... canıt make money when itıs being run by a non-profit organization, it there a value to that business? Can anybody run it?

Amendment shot down

³If the only way the Wildcat Cafe can stay open is if itıs given for free to an organization and the amount of business going through the restaurant is not enough to pay for the upkeep of the building, I think we should probably close it,² said Best. She then proposed an amendment to the memorandum for the funding request, stipulating that council approve the $20,000 reimbursement, but charge the Old Stope Association a $6,000 annual lease.

Bestıs amendment was not supported, but Mayor Dave Lovell agreed there was some cause for concern.

Realistically speaking, said Lovell, the $20,000 reimbursement for capital improvements is a ³sugar-coated² term for a grant.

³The Wildcat is in the same business as other restaurants down there. If we were going to subsidize the Old Stope and give them a $20,000 grant, then it would only be fair to go and subsidize Bullockıs in some way or another for operating there,² said Lovell. For that reason, Lovell said he did favour Bestıs amendment. Coun. Bob Brooks said Lovell and Best were missing the point. He said the idea of shutting down the Wildcat Cafe was ³totally ludicrous.²

³The Wildcat Cafe is an asset to the residents, to the City of Yellowknife, to all the visitors,² Brooks said.

He believed that if the City of Yellowknife was running the Wildcat Cafe as it operates other facilities such as the swimming pool, it would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

³Weıre operating (the Wildcat Cafe) as a service to tourists and residents, this is not a business per say and thatıs why we have volunteers in there running it. This is a city asset facility,² said Brooks.

He also pointed out the memorandum for the reimbursement stated that the lease for the Wildcat Cafe would be reviewed by city council next year, and changes could very well be made at that time.

After each councillor had the opportunity to speak on the matter, Best then withdrew her proposed amendment because of a lack of support.

Coun. David McCann then attempted to propose his own amendment.

He suggested the city issue a request for proposals when the lease for the Wildcat Cafe expires next year so other businesses and non-profit organizations could have a chance to operate the restaurant.

That motion was defeated almost immediately, as none of the councillors wished to second the motion.

In the end, the motion was passed. Cheryl Best was the only councillor who voted against the $20,000 reimbursement.

Coun. Alan Woytuik was not in attendance.