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Bute Street plaza needs more community programming

Better lighting, gay events and a market, residents and businesses suggest

The Bute Street plaza needs gay-focused programming, says Fountainhead Pub manager Randy Newburg. “We’re losing more and more of the heart of the Village,” he says. “We had flags here before, and now we have little bits of the rainbow flag included in the banners.” Credit: Shauna Lewis

What could be the heart of the Davie Village is languishing because of insufficient attention and poor communication, say gay business owners and community members in the neighbourhood.

“It’s a great space,” says Hamburger Mary’s manager, Maddison Schmitt, of the Bute Street plaza, which sits in front of his diner, at the intersection of Davie and Bute streets. “I would love to use it to host a beer garden for Pride.”

“It should be the iconic spot in the West End,” says Little Sister’s bookstore co-owner Jim Deva, but right now it’s “not very flattering.”

Deva thinks the space needs better lighting and a community directory that identifies groups, businesses and landmarks in the West End. He would like to see programming for the space taken out of the city’s hands and placed jointly with corporate sponsors and community organizations working under a seasonal six-month contract rotation.

“It has to be vibrant,” he says. “It needs to become a centre where community and business meet.”

“I’d like to see more use of the space by neighbouring business and community groups,” Schmitt agrees.

Schmitt thinks there’s been a “communication breakdown” between the city and local businesses and residents about how best to use the area.

“They [the city] could be a little bit more proactive,” he suggests.

Four months after Vancouver City Council approved a new community plan for the West End, city staff are working with CityStudio design students to implement the plan’s suggestions for the plaza. But despite a handful of city-hosted events, on-site discussions and rainbow-coloured picnic tables, community members say more must be done with the space they were promised.

“It doesn’t need to look exclusively gay,” Deva says, acknowledging the sexual and ethnic diversity of the West End. But “if it’s going to represent the West End, it certainly is going to have to represent the LGBT community.”

Fountainhead Pub manager Randy Newburg agrees. Any programming for the area must be gay-focused, he says.

“We’re losing more and more of the heart of the Village,” he says, pointing to closing gay businesses and the removal of the larger rainbow banners that once flanked Davie Street.

“We had flags here before, and now we have little bits of the rainbow flag included in the banners. It seems to me like we’re losing our Village,” he says.

“I think the whole neighbourhood is changing,” he says. “I think that in the past everyone who was gay lived downtown, and I think now we’re diversifying and we’re getting more of an influx of straight people.”

One community member who regularly uses the space says it has become a safe haven at night where people can meet before heading off to bars and restaurants. It’s the “meeting centre of the village,” Dex Franks says.

West End residents Stuart McKay and Roy Rogers would like to see the space turned into an artisan market, where local artists like themselves can make and sell their work.

“We’re not prejudiced,” Rogers adds. “We want everyone to be here and we want everyone to feel welcome.”

Franks thinks the plaza needs better lighting, a garden of bedding flowers and more cigarette-butt bins. Schmitt says he’d like to see a garden, a cobblestone pathway and more community programming and fundraising in the plaza.

City staff are reviewing a report with feedback that was compiled in March from a series of small discussions held with local businesses and some community members in the plaza.