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Former Pride staffer balks

Duke says merchant issues addressed last year

FILLING THE STREET. Despite comments made earlier this month by Pride Toronto ED Tracey Sandilands, former Pride staffer Lisa Duke says Church St merchants were happy with how the event was organized last year. Credit: Peter Bevan

A former member of Pride Toronto’s paid staff is publicly taking issue with comments made by the group’s new leader regarding Pride’s annual street fair and marketplace.

In a lengthy letter sent to Xtra and posted on Xtra.ca, Lisa Duke, Pride Toronto’s former event logistics manager who left the organization in February, criticizes the group’s executive director Tracey Sandilands for comments she made about Church St businesses being unhappy during Prides past.

Duke writes that all of the problems to which Sandilands refers were rectified last year when Duke oversaw the planning of the street fair and marketplace.

Duke’s comments were prompted by an interview Sandilands gave to Xtra last month in which Sandilands said that the street fair and marketplace would be revamped this year.

“We have heard in the past that some of the businesses have been unhappy about stalls being set up outside their storefronts,” Sandilands told Xtra. “We have reduced the number of stalls that we are selling in order to give better exposure to the businesses that are permanently in the area.”

Duke, however, writes that these past problems “were fully rectified last year through a carefully conceived strategy in collaboration with the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA). To wit, last year several site volunteers personally remeasured 20 square blocks, and the site coordinators and I reworked the entire site plan by adding three parks in the north and Alexander St for the street fair and marketplace. We diminished the number of booths/stalls on Church St for the blocks between Dundonald and Alexander in order to accommodate and address many of the concerns expressed by CWVBIA members and various city emergency response services. By adding the new areas the total number of booths/stalls across the site went up from 213 in 2007 to 249 in 2008, despite diminishing the numbers in the core area.”

Additionally, writes Duke, the total number of booths/stalls in the prime area was decreased, in part, to address concerns about storefronts being blocked from the pedestrian traffic as well as booths/stalls interfering with lineups.

“Considering the above,” writes Duke, “if the 2009 site plan for Pride Weekend, and more specifically the position of street fair booths, is a repeat of the layout for 2008, it is not exactly ‘new and revamped,’ is it?”

Duke writes that while not everything went as planned last year, “an uneven execution does not mean that last year’s event was ‘poorly planned.’”

When asked to respond to Duke’s letter, a spokesperson for Pride Toronto said the organization is focused more on the future than the past.

“Lisa did indeed do a lot in the past two years to alleviate some of the former issues and we are trying to build on that now,” Grant Ramsay, Pride’s public relations consultant, wrote in an email. “We have some big news coming soon regarding the entertainment lineup and the human rights program, and we would much rather talk about the exciting plans we have for the festival than rehashing old comments.”

David Wootton, coordinator of the CWVBIA, says many of his organization’s biggest concerns, including equal visibility for merchants and alleviating street congestion, were indeed addressed last year.

“The businesses need that exposure during Pride,” says Wootton.

As far as this year goes Wootton says the CWVBIA board had a “really successful” meeting with Sandilands. Wootton says the board is optimistic about Pride’s abilities to further improve upon the changes made last year.