2 min

Revitalize the West End, says new BIA head

'Whatever we do needs to celebrate the gay and lesbian community': Regan

"The gay and lesbian community is just one of the elements -- one of the more important elements -- that helps define the West End," says Stephen Regan, the new ED of the West End BIA. Credit: Natasha Barsotti

The new head of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) says the message he’s received from Davie Villagers is clear: “Whatever we do needs to celebrate the gay and lesbian community.”

Stephen Regan, who assumed stewardship of the organization on April 23, after Lyn Hellyar’s departure, says WEBIA is in the midst of developing a strategic plan to revitalize the West End.

Asked if the BIA plans to engage gay villagers in this plan, Regan says transparency is a key factor of good governance for an organization.

“This year, we’re really just playing a little bit of catch-up. We need to have a strategic framework in place, and part of that is how do we want to engage, and how do we want to hear from our members and communicate with our members.”

The MLA for Vancouver West End hopes the BIA’s plan will include residents’ voices.

“His mandate is to represent the members, which are the business owners, the property owners,” Spencer Chandra Herbert acknowledges. “However, I know many of the business owners want to find a way to broaden that to ensure that it’s not excluding residents.”

“You can’t be successful as a business and a community if you’re working at cross-purposes,” Chandra Herbert observes. “I think we really need to make sure he does hear the neighbourhood’s concerns and tries to bridge that, because there were certainly some challenges in the past between the BIA and the community, and even within the BIA.”

“We’ve heard a lot from the businesses that what residents think is important — if you take care of the community, the community takes care of you,” Regan says. “At the same time, it’s a little bit of providing some leadership.”

Regan, who once lived in the West End and now resides in Burnaby, says becoming WEBIA’s executive director fits with the last 17 years of work he’s done in the non-profit business sector on policy, clean-up programs and tourism initiatives.

“I just think the West End is such a special place,” he says, “and there’s a lot of reasons why the West End is special: the geography, the density, the connection to the downtown core. The gay and lesbian community is just one of the elements — one of the more important elements — that helps define the West End. And that’s just a bonus, to have interesting things to be supporting and nurturing and championing.”

Regan plans to participate in the city’s new West End plan and encourage the BIA’s members to engage as well.

“What the city is going to want to prioritize, in terms of their zoning and planning and design guidelines, is going to impact the kind of businesses that can afford to be down here and the return of investment for property owners,” he points out. “I would say to any resident, any business owners, one of the things we can do is make sure the West End plan reflects the values of the community, including the business values. We need to have a vital environment on the street.”

Over the years, a number of gay community members have weighed in on what they think would boost the gay village’s vibrancy. Some, like Screaming Weenie Productions’ Seán Cummings, say more art and gay cultural spaces are a must.  

Regan says making sure the streets are visually attractive is also a must. “Clean, no graffiti, the newspaper boxes are in good condition, the bus stops look good, the landscaping is kept up-to-date, maybe the banners that we can influence,” he lists. He hastens to add there are no plans to remove the rainbow banners, even as he notes the opportunity to introduce seasonal banners because of the brackets that extend on either side of Davie St’s lampposts.

“It’s part of the character of this community and it’s very important to this community. So therefore, it’s important to the BIA,” Regan says.