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Toronto Greek Church Organization To Sell Property After Financial Woes

Toronto church
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Toronto. Credit: CAVM/Facebook

A Greek Orthodox nonprofit in Toronto that owns churches and schools and hosts the gigantic “Taste of the Danforth” Greek folk festival every summer might soon be forced to sell one of its properties due to a precipitous drop in revenues.

The news was shared this week from the Greek Community of Toronto, which stated that it is facing debts of $4.5 million, mostly due to the effects of the pandemic. Not only could the organization not hold the festival last year but it also experienced a similar drop in school attendance, from its normal level of 1,000 to just 100 presently.

GoFundMe account already set up

The umbrella organization is the owner of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary in Toronto, a historical treasure for all Greek Orthodox Canadians from the greater Toronto area.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the preservation of the Cathedral, chaired by Athanasia Amana. The crux of the issue is that, as Nikona Georgakopoulos, the organization’s first vice president and treasurer, told the CBC the pandemic is precluding any normal raising events for the foreseeable future.

“We’re facing reality,” Georgakopoulos explained flatly.

The Greek Community of Toronto, which represents over 150,000 Greek-Canadians and owns four properties, including churches, promotes Greek culture in various venues to the greater Toronto area. Its properties bring in a total of forty percent of all the revenue it normally receives each year.

The rest of the income it needs to continue operation usually is made up by the revenue from schools, cultural events — and festivals such as the Taste of the Danforth.

Only ten parishioners allowed in churches in Toronto

Its churches alone have seen a steep drop in attendance, caused by the coronavirus restrictions handed down by the Canadian government. At present, only ten parishioners may take part in church services.

Naturally, the restrictions make it impossible to hold normal social gatherings that would usually bring in the much-needed funds to keep going — with only five people allowed to congregate together now in Toronto — even outdoors. If the present downward trend in revenues continues, the GCT is on track to lose $2 million by the end of 2021.

“These are extremely tough decisions. Nobody on the board wanted to make these decisions, but unfortunately, it’s better we make them now than somebody else making (them) for you,” Georgakopoulos added.

“All of the fundraising events we were able to have in the past we can’t do anymore. Ninety percent of our revenue is gone right off the bat.

“Unfortunately, buildings have to be maintained,” the GCT treasurer said. “You have a whole building that’s empty and you can’t use it.

“I know the rules are there to protect people from the disease, but unfortunately, from a business perspective, you just can’t make a go of it,” he added.

Grants are not enough

The GCT usually hosts between 20 to 30 fundraising events every year. Despite the organization taking advantage of every single federal and provincial government grant that’s out there, it still isn’t enough, according to its treasurer.

The organization is not currently covering its expenses.

“People are not happy at all as they shouldn’t be,” Georgakopoulos admitted to the CBC. “But unfortunately, as directors, we have a responsibility to make sure the community continues going forward.”

A brokerage firm has already begun to solicit offers on the four properties, which are St. John’s & Alexander the Great Cultural Center; St. Demetrios & Polymenakion Cultural Center; St. Irene’s Church, at 795 Carlaw Avenue; and Virgin Mary Cathedral, at 136 Sorauren Avenue.

A press release sent out by the organization this week stated: “According to our constitution, as board of directors, we have a moral and legal obligation to preserve and promote the Greek Community of Toronto. We have weathered many storms in the past and thrived despite them.

“This current situation is unlike anything we have experienced in the past. Eventually, all final decisions will be approved by you,” it continued.

“It is troubling and very saddening to be in a position that forces us to contemplate selling one of our most treasured assets, but the alternative is considerably worse. We hope you agree and are willing to see this through with us. The very survival of the Greek Community of Toronto hangs in the balance.”

The full statement issued by the GCT is as follows:

February 8, 2021

RE: Prospect Sale of One Key Property

“Dear Members and Friends:

“For well over 100 years, the Greek Community of Toronto (GCT) has been here to support the local Greek population in countless ways. Whether it is to offer your children a strong connection to Greek history and culture through our school, our traditional dance classes, an entertaining and enlightening performance in our theatre or simply providing a venue to worship for your family and social services for the elderly, we play a critical role in the life of our community.

“Last year was disastrous for many of us, and this year has its own unique set of challenges. Because of Covid-19, friends and family across the GTA and around the world have lost loved ones, businesses have been decimated by the new restrictions and we are all struggling to adapt to this new reality.

“Sadly, the current circumstances have also had a devastating impact on the GCT. Our overall revenues have dropped by over 90%. Our current bank loan is $3.2 million dollars and our total debt is $4.5 million dollars, and we are on target to lose earnings of $2 million dollars by the end of 2021. As you know, we have conducted several fundraisers as a stopgap, but given the financial challenges we are all facing, it has not made a significant difference.

“It is a grim picture that will not get any better—in fact, it will get dramatically worse. If we do not resolve this situation, we will lose everything: our schools, all cultural activities, the ability to support the community’s social needs and so much more.

“As part of its mandate, the Board of Directors is obligated to ensure that the GCT remains a robust and active organization for our community. Given our current economic difficulties, an independent Advisory Committee was formed to explore the best approach to resolving our issue. After much research and deliberation, it recommended the potential sale of at least one of the GCT’s properties. Which would be one of the following:
• St. John’s & Alexander the Great Cultural Centre (1385 Warden Ave)
• St. Demetrios & Polymenakion Cultural Centre (30 Thorncliffe Park Drive)
• St. Irene’s Church (66 Gough Ave (795 Carlaw Ave)
• Virgin Mary’s Cathedral (136 Sorauren Ave)

“The Advisory Committee issued a Request for Proposals (RFP). They received three proposals from Canada’s biggest brokerages: CBRE, Colliers International and Cushman & Wakefield. Following a thorough review, the Advisory Committee selected Cushman & Wakefield to be our broker of record to list the properties. Working closely with our Board, and with the approval of our Members, Cushman & Wakefield will begin soliciting offers on the above properties.

“According to our constitution, as board of directors, we have a moral and legal obligation to preserve and promote the Greek Community of Toronto. We have weathered many storms in the past and thrived despite them. This current situation is unlike anything we have experienced in the past. Eventually, all final decisions will be approved by you.
It is troubling and very saddening to be in a position that forces us to contemplate selling one of our most treasured assets, but the alternative is considerably worse. We hope you agree and are willing to see this through with us.

“The very survival of the Greek Community of Toronto hangs in the balance.

“Please direct any questions to [email protected]

 

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