Vancouver
6 min

Pride street fair controversial

Questions being asked about Pride Society's consultation, finances

PLEDGE TO IMPROVE. Pride co-chairs Shawn Ewing and Randy Atkinson pledged this year to conduct the Society in a transparent, inclusive and accountable manner. Questions linger about the operation of the Davie St fair on Pride Day. Credit: David Ellingsen

A cloud of questions is gathering around the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) as it heads into its annual general meeting later this month. This time, the questions are swirling around the VPS’ handling of its first-ever Davie St Fair.



Rumours are swirling through the gay community and Xtra West has been contacted by readers with questions. We put the questions to VPS vice-president Randy Atkinson.



Some community members and business owners say there wasn’t enough consultation going into the fair; others say the fair was poorly organized; still others are concerned about its projected financial losses.



Some questions are even being raised about Randy Atkinson’s multiple roles as VPS vice-president, president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) and co-owner of the PumpJack Pub, which helped organize the fair.



Though Atkinson readily acknowledges that the fair had its share of organizational and financial problems, he says most of the consultation concerns are unfounded. And he flatly denies any personal conflict of interest.



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The story began to unfold in late June, when city council finally gave the official nod to shut down Davie St, between Thurlow and Jervis, for a street party-complete with three open-air pubs. It was the culmination of a battle; after years of trying to convince city hall to licence outdoor beer gardens for the biggest gay holiday of the year, a new and gay-friendly council finally agreed.



But time was short. With just weeks to go before Pride, the announcement touched off a new flurry of preparation at the VPS. Brian Young, co-owner and general manager of the PumpJack Pub, agreed to shoulder most of the burden. He quickly pulled together a plan to block off the Village’s main artery, fence in the beer gardens and set up a stage at the Bute St intersection.



The resulting Aug 3 fair earned widespread praise throughout the community. But it was hardly glitch-free.



Take the late street closure, for example. Traffic cops only closed off Davie St at about 5 pm-a full hour after they were supposed to. As a result, the beer trucks couldn’t access the outdoor beer gardens. The gardens, in turn, couldn’t get their supplies; hundreds of community members had to wait patiently in the hot sun for an hour (which they did), while other aspects of the street fair fell by the wayside.



It was a domino effect, Atkinson acknowledges. As a result of the late closure, everyone focussed on getting the beer gardens up and running and neglected other aspects of the fair. It was “a period of chaos.”



That chaos left people like Finn Mollerup feeling disappointed. Mollerup, who co-owns Gay-Mart, thinks the fair was quite successful overall. But he wishes its organizers had followed through on their promise to set up vendor tables on the blocked-off portion of Davie. Gay-Mart never got its table, he says.



The fair would have benefitted from a greater and more diverse vendor presence, Mollerup continues. It also could have used game booths, dunk tanks, popcorn carts and balloons-“to make it into more of a fair.”



But that can’t happen unless organizers close off the street much earlier, he points out.



Atkinson says he would “absolutely” support blocking the street off earlier if he ever helps organize another street fair.



Mollerup says he would also like to see more merchant input and participation next time. The more ideas the better, he says. Bringing the merchants on board will likely be good for both the street fair and the merchants, who can sell more wares.



Besides, he adds, “I think [the merchants] should at least be asked because we’re blocking off the street that they work on.”



Again, Atkinson wholeheartedly agrees. He also adamantly refutes the rumour going around the community that the VPS failed to consult the merchants and the Davie BIA this year.



VPS representatives hand-delivered a four-page document to every single merchant on that strip, he says. It described the then-upcoming street fair and urged merchants to get involved.



Young then presented a report to the BIA’s board of directors detailing his plans for the fair and asking the directors for their input and financial support. The board declined to get involved, though it endorsed the plan in principle.



That was partly because the BIA’s budget was already set for this year and couldn’t be changed at that point, Atkinson explains. Then he pauses. “It annoys me” that some people are complaining now about insufficient notice, he adds.



“People receive things, they haven’t got a clue what they are, they chuck them, then they complain later.” How much responsibility does the VPS have to take for getting people to read their own mail? he asks.



Jim Deva, who co-owns Little Sister’s and sits on the board of the Davie BIA, says he’s not judging the VPS’ first-ever street fair, but he would like to see some improvements.



Next time, he says, he’d like the VPS to strike a joint planning committee including VPS organizers, Village merchants and community members. The merchants could participate individually or through the BIA, he says. But they should get a greater opportunity to participate.



Otherwise, he worries, Davie merchants might suffer the same fate as their Toronto counterparts who have been increasingly shunted to the side at the Toronto Pride fair.



It’s better if the organizers “work hand-in-hand with the merchants, rather than against each other,” Deva says.



Atkinson says he’s all for that, but that means people have to actually participate when they’re given the opportunity.



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Questions are also beginning to surface about the street fair’s projected financial losses. Early estimates suggest the street fair lost about $20,000 in its inaugural run.



VPS treasurer Barry Piersdorff is reluctant to discuss the loss right now because, he says, the numbers are not yet finalized. He promises to present the finished financial statement at the VPS’ annual general meeting Oct 25.



In the meantime, Piersdorff will confirm that the VPS spent $14,000 on the street fair to cover the costs of its street-closing permits, city fees and insurance coverage. The VPS expected to re-coup that money and make a profit on the fair but now it looks like that won’t happen.



Piersdorff attributes the projected loss to the late street closure. The beer gardens, which were supposed to make money for the VPS, opened an hour late, he explains. So they lost considerable money-making time.



Atkinson agrees, though he, too, is reluctant to discuss the exact numbers until they’re finalized. But he echoes Piersdorff, saying the late street closure resulted in lost revenues.



Deva says he’s looking forward to seeing the financial statement at the general meeting. “It’s important to have all those facts and figures on the table,” he says, adding that he had expected the fair to be a great revenue producer for the still-indebted VPS.



It probably would have been a great moneymaker had the street closed on time, Atkinson replies. The VPS would not have undertaken the fair if it had known it was going to lose money, he adds.



And, yes, he says: all the money made at the beer gardens did go to the VPS-not to the PumpJack Pub (which he co-owns).



The PumpJack’s manager (Young) organized the fair and PumpJack staff helped run it, but all the profits went to the VPS, Atkinson says, flatly denying circulating rumours that the PumpJack kept any beer garden profits or benefited inappropriately from the event. No one got paid any honoraria for organizing the fair, either, he adds.



Young backs him up. TD bank representatives collected all the money made at the beer gardens and deposited it directly into a specially made separate holding account, he says.



As soon as all the suppliers are paid and the expenses covered, any money remaining in that account will go to the VPS, he continues, though he, too, isn’t expecting any profit.



Atkinson says he understands if people are confused because there are a lot of overlaps between the PumpJack and the street fair organizers. But the pub did not benefit unduly from the fair, he repeats. If anything, the beer gardens hurt the PumpJack.



The gardens lured people away from the pub, he explains. And then people were urged to go to more VPS parties afterwards, so most didn’t go back to the pub, either. And throughout the entire planning process, the pub had to make do without its general manager, since Young was so busy organizing the fair. “It hurt our business more than anything.”



Young agrees. He says he’s still a month behind in his work as a result of the street fair. It’s ludicrous to suggest that the pub benefited from the fair or its beer gardens, he echoes.



Atkinson says it’s more than ludicrous: it’s insulting.



“To suggest that any one of us who are owners of the PumpJack somehow benefited from the street fair is inaccurate in the extreme and an incredible insult to those of us who worked really hard to make Pride a success,” he says.



Atkinson further rejects any suggestion that he personally profited from the fair or had any conflict of interest in its production.



For there to be a conflict of interest there has to be personal gain, he explains. “I’m very conscious of what these issues are,” he continues, and they don’t apply here.



“We’re all just trying to do the right thing for the community. Period,” he says.



Since taking over the helm, Atkinson and president Shawn Ewing have pledged repeatedly that the VPS will be transparent, inclusive and accountable in its dealings with the gay community.



The VPS will hold its annual general meeting Sat Oct 25 at 12:30 pm at Gordon Neighbourhood House, 1019 Broughton St. All VPS members are encouraged to attend. People can purchase memberships at the door and vote. The financial statement will be presented.