The results of a Bank St Business Improvement Area survey are in.
Based on opinions from 76 Bank St business owners and managers, the BIA’s $48,000, 34-page report found 39 were opposed and 14 wanted the section of Bank St from Nepean to James streets designated a gay village.
But the rest, 23 businesses that claim indifference, have both Councillor Diane Holmes and Village activists scratching their heads.
Holmes says combining the Village question with one about bike lanes “muddied” the BIA’s survey, especially since a month before executive director Gerry LePage had publicly opposed the bike lanes.
“[Talking about the Village after talking about bike lanes] muddied the water of the survey. To ask that as the first question before moving on to the Village question is problematic. It coloured the survey. It coloured the answers. People were upset that they might have a bicycle lane down Bank St and then they were asked about a Village,” says Holmes.
The city never planned to put bike lanes on Bank St — citing the danger to cyclists posed by buses — but asking the question raised fears among business owners who want to preserve parking spaces on the street.
“Bank St is not owned by the businesses. The construction was paid mainly by the public. It’s all very well for the BIA to take a position based on a survey that still has questions, in my mind. We even have some BIA members questioning the survey,” says Holmes.
Holmes says she hopes that a residential survey that she plans to commission later this year will get to the nitty-gritty of what people really want in a Village designation.
“I’m not totally satisfied with the comments that came back. What is missing from discussion is the surrounding residential community who have not been involved. Residents will have to be flyered within several blocks of Bank St,” says Holmes. “I want to try and bring BIA along, but I also want the residential comments before putting signs up.”
Holmes acknowledges that the BIA and the Village’s working together has happened at a snail’s pace over the years. But she points to newly appointed board member Kevin Martin, owner of Stroked Ego, who will now liaise with the area’s queer communities.
“By defacto, Bank St is already becoming an LGBT village with the initiative of local businesses and the Village committee. Now we’re seeing the Village is working with BIA. That’s a big improvement over the last few years. The next step is to get a questionnaire out to the residents,” says Holmes.
Village chair Glenn Crawford says the community won’t be deterred. But he says he was surprised that some businesses claimed a Village designation would drive away customers.
“The survey relied on emotional responses. Some people seemed to be coming from a place of misunderstanding and fear. That was eye opening. I thought we moved away from that,” says Crawford.
Crawford says he has “major issues” with how the BIA’s survey was conducted. But the bottom line is that no businesses have been hurt by the Village’s activities so far.
“Have straight customers been afraid of walking down the street? Has any business that put up a flag taken it down because of complaints from straight customers or a loss of business related to the flags? No.”
Crawford also says businesses who installed rainbow flags, even those not specifically catering to the queer community, reported positive results from their customers. For example, Wayne Robinson, owner of head shop Scottie’s Spot, says his business doubled after installing flags three months ago.
Even Randall Denley, in a recent Ottawa Citizen column, is encouraging the Village.
“[The Village is] an idea that seems hardly worth discussing, much less opposing, but to the board of the Bank Street BIA, it’s a significant matter. So much so that the board spent $48,000 of its members’ money to determine where they stand on the village question.”
Holmes encourages the public to attend the Bank St BIA’s annual general meeting Thursday, May 12, 5:30-7pm at the Bank of Nova Scotia located at Bank and Gloucester.
Immediately afterwards — and across the street — the Village is hosting Build Our Bank, a fundraiser for rainbow flags on Bank St, Thursday, May 12, 7-9pm at Café Paradiso, 199 Bank St. Tickets available online and at local shops, including Venus Envy and Second Cup (Bank and Somerset).