Opinion
3 min

New blood at Toronto’s Church-Wellesley BIA

Incoming manager of Village’s Business Improvement Area has his work cut out for him

The BIA cancelled the parklet project (pictured) after just one season. Credit: Adam Coish

The new manager of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) had best roll up his sleeves.

Mychol Scully has replaced longtime manager David Wootton, whose contract was not renewed by the BIA board because he apparently doesn’t possess the skills the BIA needs to participate in WorldPride and the 2015 Pan Am Games. It’s a good thing board members realized that when they did — WorldPride is two months away.

Wootton has threatened to pursue a wrongful dismissal case, which means it hasn’t been the most auspicious start for Scully. In addition, there are worrying signs that Scully may suffer from the same handicap as other board members who have often expressed an unwillingness to build bridges and listen to divergent views. In his first interview with Xtra after taking the job, Scully said he doesn’t look at “Debbie Downer” media that talks about the death of the Village — “I don’t read Xtra or any of the major papers. I’m a huge proponent of online information.”

While that bodes well for the BIA’s website, which is perpetually out of date and provides scant information about the community, it’s a bit lacking as a communications strategy. It’s all too reminiscent of BIA co-chair Avery Pitcher’s 2012 letter that said she would speak to Xtra only if our reporters write positive things about the BIA.

There are ample constructive things to report on in the Village, but some members of the community maintain that the neighbourhood is increasingly divided — gay versus straight, condo owners versus renters, independent businesses versus chain stores, nightlife versus shopping destination. Many of these competing interests are not mutually exclusive, but if the BIA is to make them work together, its board members need to take their fingers out of their ears and stop shouting, “I can’t hear you.”

Scully lives near the Village and has 25 years of experience running a project management and media relations business, so his employment could also be an opportunity for the neighbourhood. This is especially true as the BIA, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and The 519 implement several projects in advance of WorldPride, everything from new flags and banner poles to a rainbow-coloured crosswalk.

Glen Sanderson, owner of Distinct Hair Design on Maitland Street, says the BIA comes up with lots of new ideas, but it lacks strategic planning that takes into consideration the diverse marketing needs of local businesses. He thinks the BIA rolls out too many incongruent projects that don’t fit into a wider, long-term business plan for the area. He’d also like to see less money spent on one-day events like Halloween and more spent on attracting new businesses to the shuttered storefronts, or on initiatives like the streetside parklet patio project, which the BIA cancelled after one year. “It’s easy to throw a party,” he says. “Harder is pursuing marketing and getting new clients for the area.”

But, of course, Sanderson’s is just one view; other business owners will argue that the BIA should increase the amount it spends on street parties. This cacophony of opinions about the Village has often translated into inaction, most recently illustrated by the abandoned project to improve the corner of Church and Alexander streets. Wong-Tam says that while there’s money for a bold new plan for the busy corner, stakeholders couldn’t agree on a design, so they get nothing instead.

It’s admirable that our councillor strives for unity, except it’s unlikely she’ll find it in the diverse neighbourhood. Surely all the stakeholders involved didn’t agree on the plan for each wall painting in the mural project or the design for the rainbow gateway markers, yet these initiatives somehow were implemented.

Mychol Scully has his work cut out for him, but if he’s able to encourage the right blend of Wong-Tam’s consensus-building with the BIA’s ability to generate new ideas, he might just succeed at helping the BIA bring new life to the Village.