4 min

New WEBIA directors stress community input

'Need to focus on what the communities want': Anderson

Credit: Shauna Lewis photo

Preserving the West End’s diversity and respecting community input are integral to the success of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA), say some of its newest directors.

“We definitely need to focus on what the communities want,” says Susan Anderson, manager of the Sandman Suites in the heart of the gay village. “If we have that balance, then we are going to be successful.”

Anderson, who is new to the WEBIA’s board of directors, believes preserving and enhancing community identity is important.

“The more we preserve it, the happier the community will be. We want to promote the area, maintain what we have and make it even smarter.”

Anderson is one of 12 people recently selected to sit on the WEBIA’s board of directors by an internal committee. The selections were announced at the WEBIA’s annual general meeting, Jul 3.

No elections were held.

“The whole reason for the WEBIA is to involve community,” agrees Stephanie Jackson, owner of the Marble Slab Creamery on Denman and also new to the WEBIA board.

Jackson, who relocated from Ontario with her husband a year ago to run the English Bay ice cream shop, thinks interaction with community is a crucial step in business development.

“We like to make connections with people. They’re not just a number,” she says. “We are trying to keep that human touch.”

Calvin Deschene, assistant general manager of the Listel Hotel on Robson, agrees that community input is key but thinks neighbourhood identity is secondary to the importance of safe, clean streets. “This is a business improvement association; we need to focus on that,” he asserts.

Brinder Bains, owner of COBS Bread on Davie St, disagrees. Bains says community involvement and strategic business matters should be represented equally if businesses are to truly improve.

“Businesses come and go, but it’s the people that keep it going,” she says. “You have to support the events that support the community as well as community identity.”

Bains believes a balance between business and community must be struck to make the WEBIA successful. She’d like to see the WEBIA provide more information to the community —and seek more feedback.

“There are a lot of avenues to give it [community input] and I don’t know if they’re being used,” she says.

While Bains is reluctant to discuss the removal of the rainbow banners from the gay village, she says she understands the community uproar.

“It [the rainbow banner] is important to certain people and for the identity of the West End,” she says.

Craig Norris-Jones of the Coast Plaza Hotel on Denman St says he realizes the temporary removal of the rainbow banners from the gay village was emotional for many community members, but stresses the business-focused motivation behind the WEBIA’s actions.

“The triathlon was an incredible business opportunity,” he explains. “The WEBIA is desperately trying to do the right thing and it is with sincere regret that the removal of the banner caused the community upset.”

While Norris-Jones would not discuss the intended permanent removal of the rainbow banners, he did say that the WEBIA did the right thing by putting the rainbows back up after the triathlon.

WEBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar revealed to Xtra West last issue that she had not planned to put the rainbows back up after the triathlon but had to because the triathlon banners came down prematurely and the new banners were not yet ready for installation.

David Buddle of Prima Properties, which owns the empty lot at the corner of Davie and Burrard, says he stands behind all board decisions but admits that “we have to balance the community with the mandate of the association.”

Buddle is returning to the WEBIA board of directors for a second term.

Norris-Jones has been on the board since the BIA’s expansion in April 2007 and says he is pleased with how the organization has conducted business thus far. “It was a pretty good start. We’re getting organized,” he says. “Where I wanted to be and where we’re going is to develop a strategic business plan.”

He says the strategic plan involves gaining equity through locating new business opportunities and solidifying WEBIA-hosted core events presently in place, like the family-oriented Davie Days in September.

Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s and one of the few gay directors still on the WEBIA’s board of directors, says he has really enjoyed his long history with the BIA, but wants the board to re-evaluate how businesses and communities can work together in order to be more effective.

“The BIAs have become very powerful in Vancouver and there is bound to be a backlash unless they are shown to be socially responsible and community building,” he says.

He would like to see such a re-evaluation take place prior to the WEBIA’s renewal application process this September.

He would also like to see each of the neighbourhoods within the expanded WEBIA territory preserve its own distinct character — without imposing any one identity at the expense of the others.

“I’m concerned that there are three distinct areas in this new BIA and that they are equally represented and branded,” he says.

Rather than the WEBIA’s current plan to homogenize the West End with the same style banner for all its neighbourhoods, Deva says he would like to see banners representing the “distinct energy” of each West End community — including the gay village.

“I’d like to see a professional advertising company brand the three distinct areas,” he says.

He suggests a new banner plan could possibly see Denman St and English Bay speckled with beach-themed banners, Robson St boasting banners depicting shopping scenes, and rainbow banners flying proudly throughout the gay village.

“Why do we want a brand on an acronym?” Deva asks, referring to the generic WEBIA banners that currently border streets in areas of the West End.

The WEBIA board of directors is expected to select its new president and other executive officers at its first board meeting tentatively scheduled for the end of July. Deva has openly expressed interest in securing a seat on the executive.