It’s not every day a billionaire engages critics in a one-on-one debate, but that’s exactly what happened in Point Grey on Saturday.
A group of artists and musicians had gathered to throw a DJ-driven “protest rave” on Point Grey Road, where Lululemon founder and billionaire Chip Wilson’s $73.1-million home is located.
Protesters say Wilson’s development company, Low Tide Properties, has bought up land in the city’s northeast and handed renoviction notices to no less than 18 arts and culture organizations.
On Saturday, Wilson came out to the street to push back against the demonstrators and argue that he was a sponsor of the arts and he, too, had been through hardship.
WATCH: Chip Wilson addresses protesters outside his West Side home
“I didn’t get here without making a lot of mistakes and having failed many times, and many times I couldn’t make rent because I didn’t have a product that people wanted to buy, so if you can’t make a product…” said Wilson, before demonstrators shouted him down.
“But you’re not making enough money, right? The world doesn’t want enough of your product for you to pay the rent,” said Wilson.
“But I was paying the rent,” replied the demonstrator. “Your company didn’t give me the option of paying the rent.”
Wilson walked off at that point, declining to answer questions from Global News.
Low Tide Properties did not respond to Global News’ request for comment. The company’s website says it buys and holds office, industrial, multi-family and retail properties.
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“We invest in the emerging neighbourhoods we know best,” states the site.
“Our company searches for multiple properties in each neighbourhood with the intention of owning enough space to have a meaningful impact.
Nathan Drillot, a local film producer who’s also helped run East Vancouver art and events space Index Gallery for the last six years said his group was among those whose building was purchased by Low Tide, and was later kicked out by the company so it could renovate.
“There’s a crisis happening in the Lower Mainland and in Vancouver in particular around affordability, this isn’t just arts and culture spaces, this is housing, this is small business, this is industrial space,” he said.
“You only have two options, you fight and continue to make it work, or you leave Vancouver. I call it a crisis because for a lot of people they’re not going to be able to stay and they will leave.”
Drillot said his group is happy to pay rent, but as an arts group is only able to afford so much.
“It’s difficult because you’re having to pay rents that have exploded in a few year. For us in particular, we’ve been looking at spaces and we’ve found one … but it’s three times the price we were paying previously,” he said.
WATCH: Lululemon limits founder Chip Wilson’s influence on company
Vancouver City Councillor Jean Swanson also attended the demonstration.
“There’s a lot of artist spaces where rents have gone up a lot, and artists have had to leave because they can’t afford it. And a lot of those spaces are owned by Low Tide,” she said.
“He should just let them stay.”
Swanson said the city is at risk of losing its arts and culture spaces with property values skyrocketing, and said young artists who are just starting out are particularly vulnerable.
“We need to have artist spaces that don’t cost an arm and a leg,” she said. “We’re all richer for it.”
-With files from Paul Johnson