A handful of Davie Village and Lower Robson business and property owners participated in a West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) workshop Oct 28 to brainstorm ways to enhance the look, use and branding of the two areas.
WEBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar told the small gathering that the city is encouraging the BIA to develop a visioning document “so that they know that when they do development they should consult the BIAs.”
“I would argue that one of the core underlying purposes of this whole exercise is to enhance the BIA’s credibility with the city and to make sure you guys are a clear and strong voice in city hall, because ultimately you’ll only be able to get what you ask for and I think it’s important to ask for the right things,” the workshop’s facilitator, architect Bruce Haden, told the group.
One the “big picture issues” for the West End as a whole and its sub-areas is identity, Haden said.
“Certainly, the Davie Village has an extremely strong gay identity, which is a kind of regional draw for sure, so we can talk about ways you might enhance that,” he said.
“If I’m a gay couple coming from Paris, am I going to know about the Davie Village?” Haden asked.
Hellyar said yes, noting she receives overseas calls from people “asking strange questions about the Village,” an indication to her that the area is known.
Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva is not so sure.
“I do talk to tourists; there was a couple in [the store] about a month ago. They were on a boat, they met a lesbian couple, and they told them about Davie Village. They had no idea,” Deva told the group. “So no, I think we can do a better job of promoting the Village as an international tourist destination.
“We haven’t nearly begun that process so that everybody knows who comes to Vancouver that indeed there is a village where you can walk and shop and go out and feel safe — and in the majority basically.”
Chicago is marketing its gay village, as is Montreal and Toronto, Deva noted. “They’re doing it internationally, they’re getting the tourists and we’re not. Our tourism is dramatically down due to lack of international marketing.”
Deva raised the idea of having a rainbow archway in the Village’s centre. “We need something brandable, that we can show as an image around the world,” he said.
For his part Haden said it’s “extremely useful” to be distinctive. “What you build on is what’s unique and social about your place.”
One of the West End’s greatest strengths, he said, is that it welcomes “all forms of alternative lifestyles. [It] is powerful because it’s inclusive.”
Haden also noted the lack of redevelopment in the area, apart from Lower Robson St, as an ongoing issue.
Hellyar said developers see the area as a redevelopment nightmare. “I don’t know why it’s a nightmare, I haven’t been around long enough. But obviously, they don’t like the idea of developing, and it has to do with the reaction of the community about that development.
“And partly it’s because the community doesn’t understand what the development can do for the community,” she added.
David Buddle of Prima Properties agreed there is some reluctance to develop but also pointed out that there is limited opportunity to develop because of “fractionated ownership” throughout the West End.
“It’s not like other areas in the city where there’s large blocks that sort of become available, or willingness by the city to sort of identify zones they see as ripe for redevelopment,” he offered.
“The city can take the proactive approach there and say, ‘We want this area of town to be stimulated and to redevelop in some form,’ and they’ll actually zone in advance of developers coming in and doing it. There hasn’t been that focus in the West End,” Buddle noted.
Deva said his worst nightmare is to have Davie St turn into upper Robson. “We wouldn’t be on the street at all, we would have to move to Main St if development occurred actually in a rapid kind of way down Davie St. It would just clear-cut like dominoes all of the small businesses down the street.”
A little development is not a bad thing, Haden replied. “I think often when we have people say they don’t want to have any development at all, what happens is stuff slowly deteriorates.”
However the visioning process unfolds, it must proceed with input from the public, stressed former city councillor and planner Alan Herbert.
“You don’t come to this area and impose a project or impose a view from the top down or piecemeal,” he said. “You have to come from the bottom up, and it has to be something which in fact has a plan that the public is aware of,” he said.