The owner of The Backlot, a popular LGBTQ2S bar in downtown Calgary, is in search of a new location as a development permit application has their current space in jeopardy.
The Backlot has been in its current location on 10 Avenue S.W. since 1996, but the bar has served as a gathering space for Calgary’s gay community for nearly 50 years.
“It’s been a community bar, kind of like a Cheers of the gay community,” Backlot owner Mark Campbell told Global News.
“There’s a lot of people that have, for the first time coming out, have gone to the bar and felt comfortable enough to be express themselves in their true form.”
Campbell said the venue has also been used by community organizations to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity over the years.
In November 2022, Campbell said he received a lease termination notice for later this year, as the property owners prepare to develop an 18 storey tower with 120 residential units and commercial space.
“It was not expected at all,” Campbell said.
“I had just done a bunch of renovations and thought that I was going to be renewing the lease for a long period of time, as I’ve already been a long term tenant… It was pretty devastating.”
Global News reached out to Truman Homes, the company seeking the development permit, earlier this week for comment but did not receive a response.
Recently, a social media campaign called SAVE The Backlot Bar was launched by lawyer and politician David Khan, in an effort to gather community opposition to the development.
“It’s one of only three LGBTQ spaces that are in our city anymore, and so it’s really critical to the community,” the former Alberta Liberal Party leader and LGBTQ advocate told Global News.
Khan said he was “horrified” to learn of the situation regarding The Backlot’s future, which prompted him and some friends to rally around Campbell and the bar.
“There’s been a hollowing out of gay communities across Canada, for example Toronto and in Vancouver on Davie Street,” Khan said.
“We’re not post-discrimination, we’re not post-safe spaces; there’s been threats of violence against drag shows in Olympic Plaza.
“So we’re not at a place where we’ve disintegrated into mainstream society.”
The City of Calgary confirmed it is reviewing the development permit application on the corner of 10 Avenue and 1 Street S.W.
Morgan Huber, a senior planner with the city’s Greater Downtown Team, told Global News in a statement that the initial review has been completed and the planning department is waiting on the applicant’s response to the city’s comments.
“Once received, we’ll review the amended plans and prepare and present a recommendation to Calgary Planning Commission for a decision,” Huber said in a statement.
According to Huber, the development permit applications review team will receive comments on the application until Feb. 28.
The application will go to the Calgary Planning Commission on a date set after Feb. 28, once the city has reviewed the applicant’s amended plans package.
Campbell said he has been in discussions with the land owner about a potential spot for The Backlot in the new development, if it is given city approval.
In the meantime, Campbell said he and others are looking for a potential new location for the bar.
“Judging by the support from the community, nobody wants The Backlot go,” Campbell said. “I certainly don’t, and neither do any of my employees who are more than employees; they’ve become family over the years.
“We’re all striving to do what we can to continue it on.”