Editorial

Save the Dragon

The Sky Dragon Centre is too critical a social, political and cultural node in this city's landscape of civic engagement to let it fall by the wayside.

By RTH Staff
Published March 29, 2010

The Sky Dragon Centre has worked for years to advance social justice, citizen empowerment and creative change in Hamilton. They beat the odds and established a multi-use centre on King William St. between James and Hughson that has cultivated and sustained a vibrant community of activists, artists and even progressive entrepreneurs.

Now they're under threat of closure. Despite the fact that they've never missed a payment, their financier, the Teachers Credit Union, won't renew their $270,000 mortgage because because they are not meeting their debt-to-income ratio of 1.25:1 (i.e. they need to earn $1.25 in income for each dollar of debt).

Needless to say, conventional banks and most credit unions won't undertake the risk to support a non-profit cooperative, so Sky Dragon needs to get creative to find ways to refinance the mortgage. They have until April 18 to come up with new financing.

As director Kevin McKay explained in a recent email:

[T]he Coop needs to undergo structural changes in order to ensure its long-term financial viability, to improve its effectiveness, and to better involve the community. These changes involve modifying the Coop model and opening it up to different stakeholder groups, including community members and partner organizations. This process will take months to complete, but it needs to start now.

The most significant next step in the campaign will be a larger, more structured community meeting. At this meeting, the Coop's vision and operating history will be presented in detail, along with the structural challenges it has faced and continues to face. Coop board members will explain the various aspects of the Sky Dragon project, and reveal a plan for its renewal, growth and sustainability. Most importantly, community members will be asked to contribute their ideas and to help the board collectively generate solutions.

McKay has called for help in the following specific areas:

  1. Financing a $270,000 first mortgage

  2. Pro-bono legal and accounting help

  3. Financial Donations

  4. Help promote the effort to save the Centre

  5. Help communicating ongoing progress

  6. Volunteer help for upcoming events

  7. Tangible ways to support the Centre

  8. Becoming a member of the new Co-op

If you drop into the Centre at 27 King William, you'll see a big whiteboard detailing what needs to be done. You can also share your ideas, suggestions and support.

Better yet, try to attend tonight's Save the Dragon meeting:

The Sky Dragon Centre is too critical a social, political and cultural node in this city's landscape of civic engagement to let it fall by the wayside. Now is the time to get involved to save the Centre - before we lose a city treasure as beautiful and important as any heritage building.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 29, 2010 at 16:27:18

I would love to be able to attend this but unfortunately I have previous commitments.

Hopefully some people will post comments about the meeting to keep those of us who can not attend informed? I look forward to reading them.

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By Seriously (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2010 at 20:48:10

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 29, 2010 at 22:39:10

There was a really good turnout, it is great to see so many people that want to see this space continue in our community.

They have come up with some really great ideas for others in the community to become a part of this great venture.

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By St. George (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 08:56:14

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By MarkWhittle (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2010 at 11:13:26

If half the population of Hamilton gave you a dollar, all would be well.

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By Bonzo (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:31:44

Right why is it acceptable for many Hamiltonians to leave thier hopes for a cleaner, healthier and, fairer (i know not a word) city in the hands of a "not for profit co-operative" That as far as I have seen only works within a small pretentious, elietist demographic? Civil action is great and Grass roots civil action....even better but lets be realistic. The problems with our city aren't topics to be brought up over a peice of fair trade gluten free carrot cake and bottle of organic micro brew. Close the Sky Dragon and use the rent money on spray paint and plackards as some of the hardest working people in Ontario we should not be afraid to get our hands dirty!! Lets take to the streets and ask for change.....Wait there are all ready people downtown asking for change..."spare some change for a coffee(house)?

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By Bonzo (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:35:19

AND I JUST NOTICED: MEETINGS AT THE RICCA BUILDING!!!!! Mike Ricca is one of Hamiltons most notorious orginized criminals. Oh my research folks.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:54:30

Some 'research'.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/1674#...

Comment edited by highwater on 2010-03-30 11:54:47

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 13:03:59

Citation fail.

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By Guy Ricca (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 13:13:53

Perhaps Bozzo (oh, my mistake, Bonzo - sorry), you could do some more effective research? Our family recently sold our building (Ricca's Furniture - building only) to Brad and Frank. While we whole heartedly support the Sky Dragon's inititives, this meeting is Brad's undertaking. As for Mike, as I said before, he is a family member, but has no ties to the ownership of Ricca's Furniture (store or building). Most people can distinguish between the two. As for Ricca's Furniture store, we have moved to our larger location at 245 James N, a building we have owned since 1982.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 13:54:27

"Right why is it acceptable for many Hamiltonians to leave thier hopes for a cleaner, healthier and, fairer (i know not a word) city in the hands of a "not for profit co-operative" That as far as I have seen only works within a small pretentious, elietist demographic?" - Bonzo

I know this comment is not a popular one but perhaps if we look past the poster's bashing we can see something that perhaps needs to be addressed.

This is not the first time I have heard such accusations of the Sky Dragon. Even Ryan McGreal's piece on Community Activism points to some of the more extreme minority opinions of Sky Dragon supporters (e.g., anarchists, anti-gentrification activists, etc…). Perhaps the tone of Bonzo's criticism is not to some people's liking, but I don't think that should prevent people involved with the Sky Dragon from examining why some people have these feelings. This is one of the reasons I wanted to attend this event, to hear and decide for myself, unfortunately I was unable to and the comments here have raised even more questions about what I was hoping to determine for myself.

Maybe they are missing their mark and aren't achieving the type of community involvement they need in order to be successful with this endeavour? Perhaps if they accept and listen to the criticism and try to find the answer to why some people feel this way about what they are doing they will find some answers about what they need to do to get more people involved and keep themselves in operation.

I'll tell you right now, the type of people this city needs to attract in order to turn itself around probably aren't too interested in hearing about anarchy and anti-gentrification movements.

Anyway, hopefully we'll see some input/opinions from the other side of this debate to spark some more enlightened discussion of this issue.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 18:56:44

why is it acceptable for many Hamiltonians to leave thier hopes for a cleaner, healthier and, fairer (i know not a word) city in the hands of a "not for profit co-operative" That as far as I have seen only works within a small pretentious, elietist demographic?

Really? Try this:

why is it acceptable for many Hamiltonians to leave thier hopes for a cleaner, healthier and, fairer (i know not a word) city in the hands of a private company. That as far as I have seen only works within a small pretentious, elietist demographic?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 19:14:19

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Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-03-30 18:14:52

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 21:14:40

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By Refugee from Queen St. West (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 21:38:46

When I moved to Hamilton I saw the Sky Dragon as a place get a good coffee, a decent veg. meal and meet people in the community. I'm pretty relaxed about service, so I wasn't too disappointed, but here's the thing-

Meaning well doesn't give you licence to suck.

Supporting community involvement(even fringe elements) is in everyones interest-cities thrive on variety of viewpoints and social groups. The key here is variety-appeal to all, not just those who will agree with the folks at the big table.
There would be no shortage of cash coming in the door if the door opened to some coffee ready and some food that was just a little better.
No buisness in this town has a right to feel hard done by financially if they're not open on Sunday-it's the second biggest sales day of the week in every major city in Canada so get with the program- I'm pretty sure you're not in church. Close on Monday if the schedule is too gruelling.
I know the cafe is not the whole show but it seems to be what pays the rent.
What is happening on James N. is not gentrification. It's people starting buisnesses in vacant storefronts. They will pay taxes, hire people and create a vibrant street scene.

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By transman (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 21:58:51

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 31, 2010 at 08:58:24

"Kiely: If you did not attend the meeeting, then how can you just rely on some of the comments made here." - grassroots

I don't.

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By zippo (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 12:02:09

RTH Staff:

I am pretty sure you made an error, or are at least unclear, when you said in the story:

"they are not meeting their debt-to-income ratio of 1.25:1 (i.e. they need to earn $1.25 in income for each dollar of debt)."

The "DTI" is normally defined as the ratio of debt servicing costs (i.e. the monthly payments) to income NOT the total debt to income.

There is another ratio, the "quick ratio" also known as the "acid test" which is the ratio of liquid assets to short term debt and other liabilities which might also be what you are referring to?

Anyways, it does not matter much I suspect in this case. Much as I'm behind the "Dragon" idea on the community and social level, and I do what I can to purchase from them and support in other ways my sense is that, in accounting terms, their financials "suck like a Hoover" (sorry, that's another technical term) at the present time and nothing I heard at the meeting indicated a cogent plan to change that.

Hint: Some wide eyed dude going on about "it's capitalism free coffee! no capitalism at all!" (at the meeting) is not helpful! Unless the intent was to scare any actual potential investors who might have been there out of the room.

Are they "dead", No, but they are in the ICU and the machine that goes "ping" is running on batteries from the "Dollar Store". Hope they can get it together, I'd much rather be drinking a cold one there next year than bringing flowers to the funeral.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 13:12:54

"Hint: Some wide eyed dude going on about "it's capitalism free coffee! no capitalism at all!" (at the meeting) is not helpful! Unless the intent was to scare any actual potential investors who might have been there out of the room." - zippo

Hmmm??? Ya, not good.

Was there any discussion of their mission statement and/or an examination of how all their activities support or detract from the mission statement and their core purpose?

When any business is in trouble they need to return to their core product and disinvest in everything else that subtracts from that. A perfect example would be Ford, during the recent economic crisis. Ford was one of, if not the only car company that made the necessary tough decisions to save its core brand. They sold everything (e.g., Volvo, Jaguar, % of Mazda, etc…) that didn't support their core business and were able to actually strengthen the Ford brand and avoid asking the government for money.

I see many activities taking place at the Sky Dragon: café, music, art, ballet, yoga, nia, etc… What is supporting the core purpose, what isn't? What makes money, what doesn't? What has potential to make money if certain factors change? Those are the discussions I would like to hear rather than talk of "Capitalism free coffee". Given the number of Tim Horton's outlets in this city I don't think the majority of people care about that. Perhaps the Sky Dragon has bitten off more than they can chew? It at least appears their core mission is getting lost in the mix. For example, are they "dedicated to the goals of progressive social and environmental change" or promoting health and wellness?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 17:10:10

It was explain in detail what had happened and what they hope to change in the future. It is too bad that too many are focusing in on one thing. Fair trade doffee, is not a bad idea, in fact, it is a battle against the free trade agreements that big business has put in place. If we are talking about social and environmental change, then so does the business model.

Anyways, this organization is NOT FOR PROFIT, which people cannot get their heads around.

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By zippo (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 23:38:42

Grassroots: Helps to be clear on terminology. A "Not for profit" is an organization, in this case a Co-Op, who's stated primary purpose is something other than creating profits to be distributed to it's members. (that's a paraphrase of the legal definition). This does not mean that they don't have to make "Profit" in an accounting sense just like any other business.

Lets simplify and pretend that all the Dragon did that generated income was roast & sell coffee. On their statements you would see an entry for Sales, the money they got for the coffee they sold. Subtracted from that would be "cost of goods sold" which would include the price of the beans from their supplier, repairs to the roasting machine, wages to someone who just roasts or sells coffee, all the costs that apply directly to producing the product they are selling (coffee). The result of this subtraction = "Gross Profit" You subtract from that the other costs which are not coffee specific: Mortgage payments, property taxes, cost of toilet paper for the washroom, wages if you are paying anyone to do something other than roast coffee, etc. and you get a value called "Net Profit", or maybe if things went badly, "Net Loss" What makes it a "non profit" is that the "net profit", if any, must be used to further the goals of the organization as defined in their bylaws, not distributed to the members.

Sorry if this is stating the obvious, but there seemed to be some confusion

Comment edited by zippo on 2010-04-01 22:45:54

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 00:42:10

Zippo:

Cost of goods sold: beg inventory plus purchases less ending inventory equals cost of goods sold

Income statement

Sales

less: costs of goods sold

equals gross profit from sales

less: operating expenses

equals income or loss from operations

less: another other expenses-admin

equals net income (taxable) or net loss

less taxes equals net income or loss, which is then put into retained earnings

Items such as mortgages and taxes are liabilities, not always expensed , exceptions would be items such as CPP and EI, the employer portion is expensed, same as WSIB.

Now with other venues operating from the same location, one would have to allocate a certain percent of different costs to each venture.

I hope this helps.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-04-01 23:42:52

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By zippo (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 00:57:26

Grassroots:

So given that this is not an accounting textbook we both just said pretty much the same thing. So far we seem to be on the same page, cool.

My original point was that I did not understand your contention that folks could not get their heads around the fact that the Dragon is a not for profit, and I still am unclear about what you were trying to get at there, a "for profit" or a "non profit" that are both running at a net loss are still in the same shit, so what were you trying to say?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 01:25:21

It was stated at the meeting that they were a not for profit, I was parroting what I heard but it would seem that is not necessarily what it is, now that I have had time to think about it.

I am not sure about their bylaws and how things are divided up per se, it is a workers co-op, so it is a bit different. If you are selling coffee, then yes one does have to produce a profit, but how that profit is absorbed is the question that would need defining.

So, one would think that all workers would be paid, those who invest would get something, there are bonds so, it would be interest that they would earn, at least that is what I would think. The rest would most likely got back into the entity to make it grow. I can buy a community membership which allows me to have a vote to elect someone to the executive, plus small incentives.

To me, it is a great space and I really enjoy going there. With any sort of organization or busines type entity, there is always growing pains. It is a different concept, and they need some help from the community to keep the space going.

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By zippo (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 09:13:54

Grassroots: I agree

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 08, 2010 at 23:47:42

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By kropotkin (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2010 at 01:18:32

I think people who don't understand what ANARCHISM is, or what it's history has been, should refrain from talking about it.
just because it's a fringe movement now doesn't mean it always will be or always has been.
As for the sky dragon center I agree it has too many heads. Capitalism is a reality. I think the skydragon needs to realize that and the sooner the better, capital allows you to fund programs properly. If an organization such as this can generate enough income then it becomes possible to fund the activism and promote the alternatives it desires. Money is a tool, a means to an end and the sad reality is without it you can't get anything done.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2010 at 09:26:03

Money is a tool, a means to an end and the sad reality is without it you can't get anything done.

Not always true. Next weekend, a buch of us suburban bourgeois lackeys of the industrial capitalist elite will be getting together to clean up the garbage from the streets, ravines, trails and gutters of our neighbourhoods. Won't cost us anything but a few garbage bags.

The by-law crawl hasn't a budget to speak of, either, as far as I'm aware. And the school breakfast programme run by the Church of the Ascension requires much more volunteer time than money.

Small things, yes, but probably on the same scale as what the Sky Dragon centre might accomplish. People get together to improve their communities for little or no cost all the time - they just don't always dress it up in the scowling mantle of "activism."

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By kropotkin (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2010 at 18:03:52

direct action is one thing, the point I"m trying to make is that when you can generate enough cash to do more than break even you can fund activities that can be free for those who couldn't afford them otherwise or wouldn't generate enough income to sustain themselves. I don't consider myself an activist nor do I claim to be. The only activity I'm involved in is living.

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