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Building a bigger Village?

BIA pursues expansion plans

BIGGER IS BETTER: Expanding the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) will be great for marketing, says incoming BIA president Vince Marino. And it won't threaten the Village's gay iden Credit: Robin Perelle photo

The Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) is moving forward with a plan to expand its borders.

The BIA’s members passed a resolution to “engage and consult” the merchants and property owners along Denman and lower Robson Sts “for the purpose of exploring” the formation of a new West End BIA, at their annual general meeting, Sep 29.

“The intent is not to enlarge the existing Davie Village BIA at the expense of other West End business areas, but rather to effectively create a new BIA with a mandate to promote and improve a much larger area to be known as the ‘West End BIA,'” the resolution says.

“You can accomplish a whole lot more with a larger area and a larger budget,” explains BIA Executive Director Lyn Hellyar. Rather than leaving each set of merchants in the Village, on Denman and on lower Robson to form their own BIAs with their own administrations, it makes more sense to pool their resources into one combined structure, avoid duplication and keep the money they save for other projects, she says.

Besides, a larger area means a larger overall budget, she notes.

BIAs get the bulk of their revenues from a special tax the merchants and property owners in their areas have to contribute. A larger area means “more property owners, more merchants, consequently more money,” says Hellyar.

But “we’re not doing it for the money,” she hastens to add. “We’re doing it because we think it will be a benefit to the whole community.”

When the Davie BIA first floated the expansion idea in February, some members of the gay community responded with concern. Former city planner and councillor Alan Herbert warned that an expansion might dilute the Village’s unique gay character.

“If it’s just a land grab, don’t bother,” Herbert told Xtra West at the time. “If it’s truly a way to strengthen and build on the Village and its gay character, then go for it.”

Outgoing BIA president James Steck is confident the Village’s gay identity will be protected under the new plan.

He points to a second resolution adopted at the Sep 29 meeting. “The following principles must be guaranteed as a condition of expansion: The governance structure will empower representatives of the existing Davie Village area to determine the identity of the Village,” it says.

That means that, whatever happens, the identity of the Davie Village will be protected, Steck says. That’s important, he continues, “because we’ve developed our tight-knit community here and I would hate to see the rainbow banners disappear because someone didn’t like them.”

Hellyar admits that “a lot of merchants on Denman St don’t want pink bus stops and Pride flags.”

But she promises the Pride flags will keep flying in the Village, even under a new West End BIA. “We really identify with the Joe Average sun face and the Pride flag. Nobody has any intention of changing that,” she says.

“People see the West End as a really gay-friendly area,” she continues. “We’re trying to not water down the gayness of the Village, but also make more people feel they’re included.”

Incoming BIA president Vince Marino says he fully supports the formation of a West End BIA.

It would create “a greater marketing tool,” the PumpJack Pub co-owner says. People could be enticed to spend several days in a larger area offering more attractions. And each subsection of the area could maintain its own unique identity, he adds.

And the Village’s gay identity? “Is not even in question,” he says firmly.

Marino is one of several new or returning members to the BIA’s board of directors. Joining him are: Finn Mollerup as vice-president; Barry Piersdorff as treasurer; Murray Miller from Back Alley Wineworks; Priape’s Donal Hebner; Renata Aebi, lesbian director of the new youth centre on Burrard St; Scott Johnson from the Sandman hotel; and Andy Clerides, father of former BIA president John Clerides and owner of most of the 1,000 block on the south side of Davie St.

Though Marino has been on the board before, and Hebner and Johnson joined partway through last year, only Aebi and Mollerup remain from last year’s originally elected board.

It’s been a challenging year, Hellyar says, referring to the many resignations that depleted the board. Michael MacNeill and Ross Pascuzzo resigned for personal reasons, Mike O’Toole and Meb Teja got transferred out of the district, and Randy Atkinson unexpectedly resigned the presidency Mar 3.

The BIA also had to cope with an unanticipated $53,000 tree lights bill from the city that caught the board by surprise last year. It was a tracking error, Atkinson told an emergency BIA meeting in February.

The BIA has since paid that bill and is once again operating debt-free, having increased the members’ tax to cover the shortfall.

That sort of error shouldn’t happen again, Hellyar says. “With an office now and everything being run properly, it’s going to be pretty hard to miss something.” The BIA hired its first full-time executive director this year and opened its first office at 1033 Davie St.

“I’m excited about what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed,” Hellyar says.