The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is planning to jumpstart this year’s Pride weekend with a first-of-its kind street party in the heart of the gay village.
“We’ve been building a plan for the last couple of years and [this year] we have good accountability and financial security,” says VPS president John Boychuk.
The street party will kick off Pride weekend on Fri Aug 1 and run from 7 pm until midnight. The VPS decided to hold the party on the Friday night because of security issues associated with the fireworks on Saturday night and a reluctance to detract from the post-parade festival at Sunset Beach on the Sunday.
Also, Boychuk says having the party Friday will round out a full and fun-filled weekend.
“We’re not limiting, we’re not changing, we are expanding,” he says.
While a few blocks of Davie St closed once before for a Pride street fair in 2003 to mixed reviews, this year’s renewed celebration promises to be unique in terms of the variety of entertainment and activities available to party participants.
Davie St will be blocked off in two sections from Burrard to Bute St. Thurlow St will stay open to traffic and security guards will be on patrol. Two 1,500-seat beer gardens will cater to thirsty partiers and two stages will be set up for local deejays, artisans, vendors and stage performers.
A giant 12-foot Twister board game and a designated all-ages alcohol-free zone will also be part of the event.
It is currently unclear if Vancouver’s strict no-smoking bylaw will be enforced at the outdoor event, but party planners say they will work to create a designated area for smoking.
While Davie St clubs and pubs have given the thumbs-up to the street party, some are disappointed and feel they have been overlooked in the event licensing and party planning process.
Rather than working with the local gay bars for the street party, the VPS decided to partner with local event producers, Donnelly and Associates Event Marketing, who then obtained a Special Occasion License (SOL) from the province.
The SOL is a one-day-only permit, allowing the distribution and consumption of liquor within a designated party zone.
Cheryl Caldwell, general manager of the Liquor Control Branch for the province, says primary liquor license holders such as bars and nightclubs can apply for their own SOLs to serve liquor at the street party, but would have to forego their regular licenses for the duration.
“By law you can’t have two licenses on the very same footprint,” she explains.
The bars and clubs could, however, apply for temporary extended licensing in the area outside their establishments, Caldwell notes – a plan some of the village gay bars say they would have preferred.
Boychuk says it was easier to just go with one event producer and a single liquor license for the whole fair.
“This year there were too many challenges for a volunteer organization,” he explains. “We felt it was easier – based on the licensing limitations – to have one license. We’re not saying we’re discriminating against the bars. We are looking forward to next year in having an all-inclusive partnership with existing Davie businesses.”
James Steck, promotions manager for Celebrities Nightclub, says he received a survey from the VPS about the street party at the beginning of this year.
The survey, intended to canvass the local businesses’ interest in assisting with the party, asked if any would be willing to volunteer or sponsor the event. It also asked if establishments would consider applying for an extended liquor license in order to participate in the street festivities.
Steck says he assumed the gay bars and clubs would play a direct role in the beer gardens.
“It’s really upsetting,” he says now. “When the gay community needs support, the first thing they do is run to the bars. But when there’s an opportunity for the bars to run the beer gardens, they give it to someone outside the community.
“If the Pride Society hosted the beer gardens, I wouldn’t have a problem. But it’s the people outside the community that are benefiting,” Steck says.
Vince Marino and Steve Bauer co-own the PumpJack Pub and the Majestic on Davie St. They too saw the survey, and expressed interest in participating right away.
Now Bauer is disappointed in what he calls the limited dialogue with the VPS.
Boychuk maintains he only got a “lukewarm” response from some village businesses after asking for help. He does acknowledge the Majestic’s interest but says “they wanted to see a business plan, and that wasn’t what we were asking for. We were on a different page at the end of the day.”
John Donnelly, owner of Donnelly and Associates, is excited to be producing the street party and says the focus should be on throwing an enjoyable event.
“We’re just trying to create a fun, inviting environment, to be able to flow from one party zone to another party zone and to enjoy the spirit of Davie St,” he says.
A $5 entrance fee will buy party-goers a bracelet, allowing them to come and go through the gates at their leisure. Proceeds generated from the party will go to covering the costs of staging the event. Boychuk says any additional revenue generated will be divided between the VPS and the event producers.
Donnelly has hosted other successful gay events such as Homopalooza and last year’s beer garden at the Sunset Beach Pride festival.
Koodo mobile will be the corporate sponsor of the street party. Boychuk says because the VPS is a volunteer-based non-profit organization, private sponsorship is necessary and will reduce financial liability of the event by 50 percent. This, according to Boychuk, will allow them to throw “one heck of a party.”