3 min

Stretching and growing

BIA elects gay-friendly board, seeks volunteers

Credit: Robin Perelle

With its marketing plans progressing, its first street fair drawing crowds, its new full-time coordinator taking over the administrative details and its board turning increasingly gay, the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA) is finally coming of age.

“We have stretched and grown” in the last year, president Randy Atkinson tells a small group of BIA members at last month’s annual general meeting, Sep 30.

Just look at the Village’s ongoing plan to actively market itself to the global gay community, he says. “Though only in its infancy,” that approach is already starting to bear fruit.

Ever since the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) held its annual conference here in May, tourism writers from around the world have been flocking to cover the Village, BIA vice-president James Steck concurs.

The gay travel market generates an estimated US$55 billion a year, Atkinson observes. “If we can attract a couple of billion of that…” he trails off to an appreciative laugh from the members.

The members later reinforce their connection to the area’s gay community when they unanimously accept the core values and mission statement their directors have spent the last year drafting. While the mission statement focusses on enhancing the economic viability of the Village, its core values talk about respecting the area’s diversity and consulting the gay community (and other local residents) in the BIA’s decision-making.

“It’s been a very busy, productive year,” Atkinson smiles.

One of the most productive days of the year came Sep 11, when the BIA threw its first-ever Davie Day street fair. The association “really stretched” on that one, Atkinson says. He and the other directors are still sorting through the feedback they received at their filled-to-overflowing vision sessions that day. But a couple of things are already apparent, he notes. People are committed to the Village and they want to keep it a village. And they are opposed to any chain-store-like developments that would herald the “Robsonification” of Davie St.

One change he and the other directors hope Villagers won’t oppose is a home the BIA can finally call its own on Davie St.

“I think the need for a full-time coordinator and office space is a natural outgrowth of our growth,” Atkinson tells the assembled members. Though details are far from finalized, the board has its eye on the fourth floor of the newly re-opened Celebrities building at 1022 Davie St. One proposal they’re exploring is renting the entire floor, subdividing it into offices and subletting most of the offices to raise some additional revenue.

Whether that plan goes ahead or not, Atkinson says the time has come for the BIA to have a greater physical presence in the Village. And the board has already hired Lyn Hellyar to serve as its first full-time coordinator.

Other ongoing priorities include enhancing the Village’s streetscape and addressing its safety and security concerns (spearheaded by Jim Deva, who is also president of the Davie St community policing centre and happy to provide a link between the two organizations since, he says, the problems on Davie St are escalating).

Susan St James, chair of the street enhancement committee, is particularly proud of Davie St’s new pink bus shelters and garbage cans, and notes this year’s addition of tree lights, as well. One day, she adds, she’d like to see a “proper gateway” to the Village.

Both St James (who describes herself as gay-friendly) and Deva are staying on the BIA’s board for another year, accompanied by Atkinson, Steck, Gay-Mart’s Finn Mollerup, and Melriches’ Michael MacNeill (who also describes himself as gay-friendly).

New to the board this year are two more gay men, Mike O’Toole (a shift supervisor at Starbucks), and Ross Pascuzzo (the general manager of Celebrities); one lesbian, Renata Aebi (the director of the proposed new street youth centre on Burrard St); and a gay-friendly straight man named Mehboob Teja who is the general manager of the new Sandman Suites which replaced the Parkhill Hotel on Davie St.

Teja has actually been working with the board since early this year and helped organize the IGLTA conference. Aebi is new to the BIA and joined primarily to build a bridge between the proposed youth facility and the local merchants. Pascuzzo joined the board to “give back a little to this wonderful community that’s given me so much” since he came out three years ago.

O’Toole says he, too, joined the board to give something back to his community. “I work in Davie Village, I live in Davie Village-Davie Village is really important to me.

“Davie Village to me is family,” the 26-year-old expat Newfoundlander continues. “It’s so embracing. It celebrates diversity in every form.”

Now that he’s on the board, O’Toole hopes to maintain regular contact with the BIA’s members and the Village as a whole. “I’m all about the communications,” he smiles, promising to put out a quarterly newsletter from now on.

He’d also like to encourage more people to get involved with the BIA. “A board alone does not a Village make,” he says.