3 min

Gay Davie Village in danger

Form letter opposes BIA renewal as deadline approaches

A form letter opposing the renewal of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) could threaten the very existence of the gay Village itself, board members say.

“The Davie Village was conceived by the BIA,” explains board member Jim Deva. “It’s the very place where it was nurtured and developed. I don’t think it’s strong enough to survive on its own. It would just fade into Denman St and Robson St.”

And that would leave the gay community without a home base in Vancouver, he warns.

The Davie Village BIA was born five years ago, when merchants from Vancouver’s Gay and Lesbian Business Association got together to clean up their strip and give it a clear identity. They put up rainbow banners, marked their territory and began the slow but steady task of sprucing up Vancouver’s gay main street-and turning it into an international gay tourist destination.

Now that destination could be in jeopardy, for tourists and locals alike.

A form letter urging city hall to reject the BIA’s request for renewal is circulating among some of the organization’s members, and three of them have already signed. (Vancouver’s 17 BIAs operate on time-limited mandates, most of which are five years long. Each time a BIA nears the end of its term, it has to ask the city to renew its mandate. City staff then asks the BIA’s members if they still support the organization and if they do, the BIA gets renewed. If they don’t-and one third of the members say no-then the BIA normally gets canned.)

The city’s BIA coordinator, Peter Vaisbord, says the form letter is worrisome. The letters don’t come anywhere near representing one-third of the members, he says, but they do mean “that someone is trying to organize something against the BIA.”

So far, Vaisbord has received three letters opposing the Davie BIA’s renewal; two of them are identical and the third quotes whole passages from the form letter word for word. All three came from the 1200 block of Davie St, though Vaisbord would not identify the writers.

The letters are complaining about the BIA’s alleged lack of emphasis on safety and security issues, such as street people and drug-related crime. And they’re pushing for tougher police intervention.

BIA president Randy Atkinson says the BIA’s opponents have some valid concerns-“but they have an unrealistic expectation” of what the BIA can do by itself to address these issues.

Safety and security issues in the Village are “complex social issues,” he explains. “They require a complex response, most of which is beyond the purview of the BIA.”

The BIA is already working with existing agencies, like the Davie St Community Policing Centre and social service providers, to address these issues, Atkinson notes. “Our job is to coordinate the existing services and focus those services here.” It’s not to go off on “expensive tangents” and tackle complex issues single-handedly.

Still, he says, he would like to hear what the opponents have to say. He encourages them to come to the board’s meetings and participate in the decision-making. “If they think it’s a problem, come out and give us a hand,” he says. “Be part of the solution.” Don’t just defeat the entire structure.

It would be a “huge” loss to the Village and the gay community if the BIA gets defeated, Atkinson continues. If the BIA doesn’t get renewed, the rainbows will come down and the community will lose its visible identity and its sense of territory, he warns.

Though the letters make no explicit mention of the BIA’s gay direction, they do say that the rainbow banners haven’t enhanced their businesses.

BIA vice-president James Steck doesn’t buy it. The banners have given the neighbourhood an identity and a name, he says. They have “defined the Village.” And that’s good for business, both locally and in terms of attracting tourists.

Steck, too, thinks it would be a great loss if the BIA were defeated.

So does Deva. The BIA is valuable, he says, pointing to its many activities, from attracting tourists to building community to keeping the street clean on a daily basis.

Granted, sales have been down for everyone in Vancouver, including the Village, in the last two years, he says. But that’s not the BIA’s fault. If anything, the BIA is the key to keeping Davie vibrant and viable, he says. It would be irrational to disband it now.

Deva is optimistic and says he’s looking forward to launching the BIA’s new projects later this year, such as putting up rainbow lights in the trees. “It’s going to be just magic,” he sighs.

Atkinson is urging everyone who supports the BIA and the existence of a gay village to bring their business to its member merchants (located on Davie between Burrard and Jervis) and tell them why. He is also encouraging all Davie BIA supporters to write to the city immediately to tell staff how they feel. The deadline for all submissions regarding the Davie BIA’s renewal is Jan 28.


Peter Vaisbord, BIA coordinator.