Revitalizing business and culture in the West End is the first step in the Business Improvement Association’s (BIA) vision for change, directors told the organization’s annual general meeting, Sept 19.
“It’s more than a facelift; we want a cultural shift,” the West End BIA’s new executive director, Stephen Regan, told an unusually high turnout of more than 50 members.
“We want people to be more neighbourly. We want businesses to not only clean up in front of their places; we want them to ask, ‘What can I do down the block?’”
Regan says he hopes businesses will consider how best to foster community in their areas.
The West End BIA’s focus on beautification, safety concerns and embracing cultural uniqueness is all part of the board’s new mandate, Regan says. The organization’s mission statement — “To brand, promote and revitalize the West End” — is the catalyst in a five-year planning process that the board hopes will bring more people, and revenue, to the area.
Regan takes over from previous executive director Lyn Hellyar, who stepped down in January.
“There was a fair bit of cleanup,” Regan admits, referring to the state of the organization when Hellyar left.
“I realized we needed to do a governance overhaul,” says chair John Nicholson.
“I think there were elements of strategic planning, but I don’t think the board owned it,” Regan says.
The board hired a governance review firm to determine what needed changing in the association. Out of the review, 42 recommendations regarding governance and strategic planning were made.
“Normally, you do a governance review, you have six or eight things you must change or review. We had 42!” Nicholson says.
The board says it has followed through on more than half the recommendations so far and is working on others, such as consulting city and transit authorities about linking the BIA high streets of Davie, Denman and Robson in a transit loop via the Granville Street connector.
The organization says it will also look into the possibility of establishing landmark gateway monuments that would mark the entrance of various West End communities, including the Davie Village.
The BIA has also hired a branding firm to help promote the area and establish a brand that will draw more business and revenue to the West End. The brand will be announced in the spring.
No matter what changes are made, Regan promises that the cultural importance of the gay village — recently recognized by city planners as the West End’s “culture hub” — will be maintained.
“We love the banners,” Regan says of the rainbow markers that flank the street in the heart of the gay village.
The rainbow banners — whose temporary removal by Hellyar in 2008 sparked a public uproar — are not in danger, Regan assures.
“Those banners are fantastic banners,” he says. “But I think they need to be cleaned, and we probably need new ones,” he adds with a laugh.
“I think part of the reason the neighbourhood has been so successful is because it has embraced the queer community and the economic benefits of having a hub and something unique,” Regan continues.
Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who attended the meeting, believes the gay village will survive as long as the community maintains and values its connection to the space.
“Many shops have changed over many, many decades, and the queer spirit has survived intact and remained strong,” he says.
The meeting’s high turnout seems to bode well for the BIA, Chandra Herbert notes. “Compare the BIA AGM last year, when it had to be cancelled because we didn’t have quorum, to this year and it’s a great sign,” he says.
“The energy and attention to the West End has always been desired, but many business owners didn’t feel that the door was open to get involved or that their contributions would be respected,” he says. “So I think to see this crowd here shows that the door is open now, and I think that it shows that people do want to be involved and are going to be involved and not just talk about it and complain.”
The West End BIA received $675,469 in total revenue but spent $731,556, with the bulk of the funds going to wages for the departing Hellyar, street maintenance, safety and beautification projects and events, according to its financial statement from March.
The budget for 2013/14 shows an expected increase of almost $100,000 in revenue, expected expenditures of $244,048 on revitalization costs, $254,493 for promotion expenses and $204,565 for administrative costs such as rent, office equipment and transportation costs.
The board has also started a contingency fund of $34,628 created from the organization’s tax return funds.
Returning for their second year of a two-year term are chair John Nicholson (Listel Hotel); vice-chair David Buddle (Prima Properties); and directors Brinder Bains (Cobs Bread), Wendy Derzai (The Donnelly Group), Michel Duprat (Fountainhead Pub) and Kathy Ross (pHresh Spa).
First-term directors joining the board are Michael Makowy (HSBC Bank), Lisa Arthurs (Quick Nickel Clothing), Michael Brown (Best Western Sands), Joe Skokan (No Frills) and Gary Gohren (Gohren & Associates Chartered Accountants).
Mary Phelps (Vancity) returns to the board as well.
The board has a full slate for 2013.