The City of Vancouver voted unanimously to expand the geographic size of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) by more than a factor of five, Feb 13.
Until now, the DVBIA included only the Davie Village; the three blocks along Davie St from Burrard St to Jervis St which is home to the city’s largest concentration of queer services and businesses. The DVBIA’s new borders add 14 blocks northwest from Jervis all the way along Davie to Denman St, northeast along Denman to Robson St, and southeast along Robson back to Jervis. The expansion takes effect Apr 1 and is expected to lead the DVBIA to rebrand itself as the West End Business Improvement Association.
“I feel wonderful,” said DVBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar through tears of joy after the vote. “I feel like we’ve really made a first step toward a huge success.”
In September 2005, the DVBIA board passed a resolution to explore the possibility of expansion.
“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 read.
“You can accomplish a whole lot more with a larger area and a larger budget,” Hellyar told Xtra West at the time. “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.”
“We all know that BIAs are able to harness commercial clout and government support that neither small nor mainstream businesses can on a normal basis,” DVBIA president Vince Marino told council before the vote.
“Having that much voice at city hall is awesome,” he told Xtra West last March.
Business improvement associations are funded by levies collected by the city from property owners and business tenants. The amount paid by each business is calculated based on the tax-assessed value of the properties they occupy.
In 2006, for example, the city approved $160,000 in funding for the DVBIA, while the Downtown Business Improvement Association, which encompasses most of the rest of the downtown peninsula, drew over $1.8 million.
With the expansion, the city also voted to increase the five-year funding ceiling for the DVBIA from $800,000 to $1.6 million to cover additional expenses associated with servicing a larger area. For merchants in the existing DVBIA, that funding change will actually mean that they will get a small break on their tax bill because new members in the expanded area, who previously paid no levies at all, will pick up some of the slack.
Levies in the expanded DVBIA will range from under $250 per year for the smallest businesses to over $40,000 per year for the largest. While there was not enough opposition from the business community to lead council to defeat the expansion plan, the larger businesses, like the hotels and supermarkets, opposed it.
“It’s our standard to object to these kinds of things,” Richard Luthwaite, area real estate manager for Canada Safeway, told council. Safeway operates two supermarkets in the annexed DVBIA area and will now pay thousands of dollars in annual levies for each of them.
“Given the fact that we own large parcels of property, and the assessments are excessive to us, we feel we promote our stores well in the marketplace and locally as well,” said Luthwaite when asked why Safeway didn’t want to participate in the DVBIA. “We spend money on our own purposes and that’s how we like to do it. Whether it’s in Vancouver or any other property.”
Some members of the queer community were initially concerned about an expanded DVBIA for a different reason. They worried the politics of the expanded organization could leave queer businesses at the mercy of a majority who might one day vote to dilute the queer character of the Davie Village.
The DVBIA was founded in 1999 by a group of gay business people who wanted to formalize the Davie Village as the geographic heart of the gay community in Vancouver and to secure a voice for the queer community at city hall. But by 2002, there was only one openly queer person on the board and then-president John Clerides refused to recognize the queer community’s special claim on the Davie Village.
That prompted a group of Davie St queer business owners to take back a majority of seats on the DVBIA board at that year’s annual general meeting.
Would the queer community be prevented from protecting itself as it did then if a similar situation arose with the expanded DVBIA?
“No. I really don’t think so,” says Marino, who co-owns the PumpJack Pub and is serving out his last year as DVBIA president. “The gay community shouldn’t even have a bit of a fear about that. The West End is such a diverse city that I just can’t see not continuing with that diversity. We’re too colourful for that. I’m hoping this expansion will add more colour and diversity and enable us to work together.”
What happens now?
“A press release will be hand-delivered to all the new merchants and we’ll go ahead with setting up additional board members,” says Hellyar. “We’ll have an event mid-April to celebrate and let all the new merchants and owners come and visit to see what we actually do. We just have to press the go button to make that all happen. We’ll get on with business.”