3 min

BIA president resigns unexpectedly

Board forges ahead with proposed expansion

KEEP IT GAY. 'Any new members would know coming in that one of the goals of the BIA would be to preserve the gay character of the Davie Village no matter what," says Lyn Hellyar (left), coordinator of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA). Hellyar and new BIA president James Steck say the sudden resignation of former president Randy Atkinson won't de-stabilize the organization, or its proposed plans to expand. Credit: Matt Mills

In a surprise move, Randy Atkinson resigned his position as president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), Mar 3. Former BIA vice president James Steck, of the Oasis Pub, Sugar Daddy’s and Numbers, is now the board’s new president.

Despite repeated calls to Atkinson, he didn’t speak with Xtra West before deadline.

BIA coordinator Lyn Hellyar says Atkinson’s resignation letter cited a story in the last issue of Xtra West, about the BIA’s proposed expansion plans, as part of the reason for his departure.

Hellyar says there was previously at least one call for Atkinson’s resignation from the membership, amid calls for increased communication and accountability among the board members.

Of particular concern to the membership was the handling of a $53,000 invoice the BIA received from the city last November. The costs stemmed from electrical work for the tree lighting along Davie St and were not accounted for in the first BIA budget approved in September.

The BIA’s directors met in mid-February, prior to Atkinson’s resignation, to discuss the possibility of expanding, as well as to approve a new budget to account for the missed invoice and cover expenses associated with the organization’s new office space and full-time coordinator.

The added administrative expenditures are necessary, they say, to make the BIA more accessible to its members and to the community. But the new budget is almost twice the original one and outpaces the $800,000 in funds promised by the city to cover the BIA’s five-year mandate.

Will Atkinson’s departure destabilize the BIA? “Good leadership breeds sustainability” says Hellyar. “We are planning to stay the course. Why would we change? Basically, we needed to accept [Atkinson’s resignation] and move on.”

Says Steck, “I hadn’t planned to be BIA president so soon, but all our businesses are in the Village, so it’s a natural extension of what I do.”

Both Steck and Hellyar insist the BIA will maintain the established gay character of the Davie Village.

The Village is already gay, Hellyar says. The BIA is merely reflecting reality with its rainbow banners and emphasis on marketing the area as a gay tourist destination.

Hellyar dismisses suggestions that the BIA’s proposed expansion to Denman St could undermine or dilute the Village’s gayness. “Any new members would know coming in that one of the goals of the BIA would be to preserve the gay character of the Davie Village no matter what,” she says.

She later mitigates the statement by saying: “the BIA is not a gay BIA. It is for all the merchants in the area.”

Hellyar suggests one way to preserve the gayness of the Davie Village while expanding the BIA, would be to preserve distinct characters in the existing and newly annexed areas. She dismisses concerns about non-gay merchants in the proposed new area banding together to gather enough votes to de-gay the Village core.

Still, if a larger West End BIA decided it needed a unified character and that the Pride flags and pink street furniture were not part of that character, the queer businesses on Davie St might not hold enough votes to stop them.

Hellyar says there are merchants on Denman St who are eager to participate in the Davie BIA or, at least, to form their own BIA.

Ultimately, both Hellyar and Steck envision a West End BIA. “It’s a question of bigger is better,” says Hellyar. “The businesses on Davie are suffering. The businesses on Denman are suffering. The idea would be to have a cohesive group with a louder voice.”

The BIA’s remaining directors still need to establish exactly where they’d like to expand. (In addition to Atkinson’s departure, the BIA lost two other gay directors, Gay-Mart’s Finn Mollerup and Starbucks’ Mike O’Toole, in the last few months, due to personal reasons and being transferred out of the BIA’s designated area. A fourth director, Mehboob Teja from the Sandman Suites, was also transferred out of district, but Steck says the hotel’s new manager will soon fill that empty seat on the board.)

Once the BIA finalizes its choice of direction, it will then need to assess the willingness of merchants in the proposed new area to participate and figure out precisely how much extra revenue it can expect from any expansion proposal. Then it will need to successfully pitch the idea to the city and to its Davie Village members.