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8 min

Inside the Bank St BIA

How they went from hot to cold over the Village

A month after releasing news that they would not support rainbow flags in the Village, senior members of the Bank St BIA are trying to keep a low profile.

In fact, the BIA (Business Improvement Area) declined to explain itself to Capital Xtra’s readers, despite repeated attempts to reach board members and the BIA’s director, Gerry LePage.

The last we heard from LePage was when he released a Jul 24 statement on behalf of the BIA. It said that after a vote by the board of management May 21, the BIA had decided to say no thanks to an official Village between Nepean and James St — at least for now.

So what happened?

In Feb 2006, LePage told the attendees of a public meeting that his association long favoured a formal recognition of the strong gay presence on the Bank St strip. In fact, LePage said that the BIA supported the creation of an official Village when the street was redeveloped in the next year or two — ie now — but challenged the gay community to get behind it to ensure that it would happen.

He said that he was disappointed that the gay community has been low-key in pursuing a designated Village since the spurt of activity in 2002.

“We’ve looked at this from many different perspectives with respect to economic developments, the cultural mosaic and the diversity that the gay village would bring to Bank St,” said LePage at the February 2006 meeting, discussing some 2002 survey results ordered by the Pride Committee that showed an overwhelming 88 percent of business owners between Somerset and Gladstone are in favour of recognizing the area as the Village.

He also said that he wanted to establish better ongoing communication with the gay community.

“For us, it’s better if we have someone who is appointed by the gay community to come into the office on a regular basis and say these are our issues and this is what’s happening.”

Two years later, there still isn’t a gay business owner on the BIA board of management.

Meanwhile, the queer community’s attempt to reach out was sidelined. Gay graphic designer Glenn Crawford spent the last two years trolling through red tape.

In 2006, Crawford was told to wait for a city-run consultation group to be struck in relation to the street’s construction and redevelopment. It took a year for the board — formally known as the public advisory committee — to hold its first meeting.

And while Crawford and former Pink Triangle Services staffer Rick Barnes were both invited to take part, it turned out the committee didn’t have any teeth. Crawford’s and Barnes’ requests for a gay designation for Bank St went unheeded in the final city plans.

Branding, they were told, belonged under the purview of the Bank St BIA.

“The results are frustrating, but the process was important,” Crawford reflects. “While we don’t have any result from that — I think it was a good first step.”

When the results were presented at an open house in Mar, 2008, gay and trans residents packed the public event, demanding that rainbow flags be included in the design.

In May, the Bank St BIA retained the services of research advisors from the Corporate Research Group to survey Bank St businesses. Teams twice surveyed businesses with just one question: Do you support identifying Bank St as gay?

The two surveys, conducted a couple of weeks apart, returned inconclusive results — the first survey indicated that 75 percent of businesses within the proposed gay district were not in favour of the branding, while the second survey said that 73 percent were.

Calls made to the research group asking for details of the surveys, such as which businesses were asked, how they chose which ones to poll, and if the same ones were asked in both surveys, were not returned. Capital Xtra, a member of the Bank St BIA, was not asked to be a part of either survey.

In fact, at the board meeting in which the issue was discussed, city councillor Diane Holmes was the only one who voted against the motion which saw the BIA wash its hands of the project.

Instead they voted in favour of a motion that says that a community’s identity develops gradually and naturally (from the bottom up), and that no action was needed on the part of the BIA to recognise the gay community on the street.

“I thought it was premature to be voting on any such thing anyway,” says Holmes. “We should be working with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community instead to ensure the rainbow village happens.”

So who is the BIA? Businesses on Bank St pay into a fund through their property taxes which makes them automatic members of the BIA. Their member list includes everyone from Rogers Video to Shoppers Drug Mart and gay businesses like Capital Xtra and Wilde’s.

The group serves a government mandate, and its board of management is officially endorsed at a city council meeting once every four years. The last time the board was endorsed was after the municipal election in 2006. Since then, the composition has changed, although neither the City of Ottawa nor the BIA has made the changes public.

Capital Xtra however, obtained the board of management minutes from the May 21 meeting, which contains an updated list of the Bank St BIA.

The original list made public by the City of Ottawa had eight members. Since then, Brian Roberts from Regional Realty Group is assumed to have left the BIA. According to staff at the realty group, Roberts resigned almost two years ago and wasn’t replaced by anyone else from the company. No one had any updated contact information for him.

Rock Falardeau from Scotiabank (at Bank and Gloucester) has been replaced by new branch manager Michel Parent, and Larry Hartman (of Hartman’s) and Derrick Thompson (Bob Thompson Jewellers) have been added to the board.

The members of the executive have been less than forthcoming about what drove their decision to say no to the Village.

As well, from the minute of the meeting, it’s apparent that not everyone on the board voted on the motion or attended the May meeting. Those who were present voted to adopt a policy on “bottom-up branding,” and decided that the gay community had not yet achieved enough of a presence on Bank St to have the area deemed as an official rainbow village. Let’s take a quick look at who makes up the BIA and how they voted:

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Steven Tanner, Staples Business Depot (613.235.2525)

Tanner said that as a board member, he attends some of the BIA meetings, but would not say whether or not he was at the meeting where the vote was actually conducted. The only thing that he did say was that Capital Xtra should take its questions to Gerry Lepage.

Voted: Absent from the meeting; didn’t vote.

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Ken Ginn, Ginn Photographic (613.567.0770)

Ginn did not vote at the May meeting. He says he is still on the BIA, but hasn’t attended a meeting for awhile.

“I’ve only been to the meetings on a couple of occasions,” Ginn says. “Not recently at all though — I wasn’t a part of the vote.”

Voted: Absent from the meeting; didn’t vote. While Ginn says that he is still in fact on the BIA, the updated list from the BIA meeting doesn’t mention him.

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Bill Joe, Cathay Restaurant (613.233.7705)

Bill Joe only comes into his restaurant a couple times a week to pick up mail, and apparently doesn’t leave his employees a number where they can contact him in the meantime.

When reached, he said that he didn’t have an opinion about the Village project.

“I don’t really know anything about this — I suppose I’ll be getting a press release about it from Gerry.”

Voted: Against the Village. While Joe says that he didn’t attend the meeting where the votes were cast, the minutes from the meeting say otherwise. Not only did he vote, but he motioned to adopt the Bank St Constitution, Procurement Policy and Hiring Policy and to approve financial statements, and even inquired about the status of sidewalk sale banners.

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Michel Parent, Scotiabank (613.564.5307)

Parent replaced Rock Falardeau on the board when he took over responsibilities for the Bank St location.

Parent said that Scotiabank employees cannot comment to the media directly, and directed questions to their media relations person.

“I’m not in liberty to discuss my business on the BIA,” he says.

He passed us to Anne DeRabbie, Scotiabank’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs in Toronto.

She knew nothing about the BIA on Bank St in Ottawa, but promised that she would speak with Parent about the matter.

“His feeling on this is that because the vote was a part of private BIA business, he doesn’t think that it would be appropriate for him to comment on how he or anybody else on the board voted,” says DeRabbie.

“He has deferred all comments to the executive director.”

Voted: Against the Village, but considering Scotiabank’s marquee sponsorship of Walk For Life and other gay causes, movement from him on a future vote is possible.

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Mel Hartman and Larry Hartman, Hartman’s (613.234.8692)

Mel Hartman is on vacation and unavailable for comment, and calls made to Larry were not returned. Larry was the board member who actually moved the motion “let it be resolved that the Bank Street BIA adopt the proposed Bank Street BIA Policy on branding as tabled,” in regards to bottom-up branding.

Voted: Both voted against the Village.

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Derrick Thompson, Bob Thompson Jewellers (613.233.8839)

As one of the newest additions to the BIA, Thompson seconded the motion moved by Larry Hartman. Calls made to Thompson were not returned.

Voted: Against the Village.

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Jacie Levinson, Commvesco Levinson Viner (CLV) Group (613.728.2000)

While Levinson confirmed over the phone that he was still on the board, he refused to answer any more questions about the BIA, or whether or not he had attended the May meeting where the vote took place.

Voted: Absent from the meeting; didn’t vote.

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Diane Holmes, City Councillor, Somerset Ward (613.580.2484)

Disappointed with how the other members of the board voted, long-time supporter of the gay community Holmes explains why she thinks the vote turned out the way it did.

“I think there’s a feeling [among the board members] that if the branding happens, the area will start to look as though it’s not inclusive anymore, but that is not the case.”

“I think it’s time for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community to ask for a meeting with the board, and for business owners who do support the Village to come together.”

Voted: Against the motion; in favour of the Village.

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The exact process by which the board members came to their decisions is unclear. LePage’s release mentions the two surveys that were deemed contradictory and therefore inconclusive, and that the Bank St BIA supports “bottom-up branding.”

LePage didn’t return our calls to comment on the press release after issuing it. However, he told the Ottawa Citizen that the BIA had voted the way it did after reviewing the two clashing surveys and deciding that bottom-up branding had not yet taken place between Nepean and James.

The board felt “they needed a policy that would not convey any special status or treatment or benefit of one group over another,” LePage told the Ottawa Citizen.

“We’re completely cognizant of the sensitivity of these issues, especially as it pertains to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community. We didn’t want to offend anybody. The board is simply trying to be fair and equitable to everybody here.”

So how about offering a compromise? Outlining exactly what the gay community can do to demonstrate that Bank St is where they live, work and play and making sure that at least one gay business owner is on the BIA?

Capital Xtra and the Village Initiative are throwing a street social on Bank St on Sep 9 in order to show the Bank St BIA how much the queer community loves its neighbourhood. A section of Bank St, from Somerset to Gilmour will be closed, where there will be a BBQ and a screening of the Wizard of Oz. Everyone — including LePage — is welcome.

“I will not accept this decision as final,” wrote Crawford after the BIA announcement, “Even if this means that, together, we are going to have to build a Village for ourselves, at least for now.”