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WEBIA opts for longer mandate

Members call for more community engagement and tourism

West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) members voted for the first time Sep 30 to renew the association’s mandate for seven years with a funding ceiling of just under $5 million, departing from a precedent of seeking five-year terms.

The city will make a final decision in February about whether to approve the requested mandate period, according to the city’s BIA coordinator Peter Vaisbord.

WEBIA’s board presented three renewal options —of five, seven or 10 years —to its membership at the extraordinary general meeting (EGM).

In presenting the three options, the association’s executive director Lyn Hellyar indicated her preference for a 10-year period.

“A lot of BIAs are renewing for a longer period of time because of the sustainability and the ease with which longer term planning can take place,” she explained. “Funders are much happier to look at the BIA if you’ve got a 10-year mandate,” she added.

Hellyar received support for the 10-year option from former WEBIA president Vince Marino who noted that choosing a seven-year mandate might be a good compromise.

Marino says it’s been his experience that the organization spends an entire year preparing for the renewal process, which at the five-year level leaves only four years for meeting other goals.

Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva, who told Xtra West he was satisfied with the BIA’s eventual decision to adopt the seven-year option, opposed the 10-year option, favouring a five-year term.

“I think it is far more accountable to the people who pay into it if it’s done in a five-year period. That’s quite a period of time to plan,” Deva said.

“We don’t really know what the road is going to look like five years from now,” he added. “I want to come back, look at it, bring it before city council, discuss where we’re at, how we’re contributing to business vitality and to the vitality of the community around.”

But Hellyar says the BIA is accountable every year.

“We’re not accountable at the end of five years. We have to have an AGM, we have to do a survey, we have to go to city council every single year,” she pointed out.

Asked by Marino to elaborate on other BIAs’ experiences with longer-term mandates, Vaisbord pointed to the Downtown Vancouver and Mount Pleasant BIAs that have both experimented with a 10-year term.

He noted, however, that Mount Pleasant returned to a five-year cycle because of accountability issues and a lack of outreach to membership.

“They’re just coming out of a period of some flux within that 10 years,” Vaisbord explained. “So I believe that’s one of the reasons they went back to a five-year term —just to regroup, and maybe it’s easier to plan in some ways on a five-year basis than looking ahead for a full 10 years.

“I’m not going to tell you that in my opinion 10 years is not accountable,” Vaisbord says when asked if there are accountability issues that arise when longer-term mandates are adopted.

“Is 20 years less accountable than 10 years? Probably. Is there less accountability on a 10-year term than on a five-year term? Probably to some degree,” he acknowledges, but adds that “we have the opportunity to review the activities of the board of directors every year.”

The West End BIA also approved a proposed budget of just over $600,000 for its 2009-2010 financial year at the EGM.

Deva says he’d like to see part of that “enormous budget” spent on bringing gay and lesbian tourism into Vancouver.

Marino says he’d like the Association’s marketing outreach to be more global, instead of “internal to us, ourselves, or the city.”

“I guess my comment would be for the board to look at how do we actually market the entire West End BIA globally,” he told the meeting.

“Not to be negative, Davie Days is great,” he continued, ” but again it’s within our own body. It really isn’t attracting a lot from the outside.”

Hellyar says a tourism-geared brochure, describing the three areas making up the BIA, is in the works.

Marino said that approach assumes tourists have already arrived, gone over to Tourism Vancouver, found the pamphlet and decided to visit the West End.

“I guess I’d like to suggest a little more than that,” he said. “We have in the gay community a lot of tourists through Gayvan marketing, but I don’t see the BIA kind of doing that.”

For her part, The Centre’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear wants the BIA to engage with the community more.

Breakspear says in researching the roles of BIAs in the city, she found that they have “a strong mandate about the neighbourhood itself,” even while they benefit businesses.

“You’re talking about the people, the flavour, the personality of the neighbourhood. To fulfill that, to really brand the neighbourhood, and for the businesses to capitalize on that, the BIA needs to have a level of engagement —needs to know when they’re on track and when they’re misstepping. I would just hope to see ongoing engagement, maybe before a potential misstep,” she says.

It’s got to be more than newsletters and occasional meetings, Breakspear adds, suggesting open forums and using the WEBIA’s business members to solicit comment from the community as ways to foster engagement.

She also says the association’s Davie Day event can be more reflective of the queer community.

“I think that businesses in the West End, they chose to locate their businesses in an area that is readily identifiable as a queer neighbourhood. For many of them that was a very strategic choice. There does have to be a measure of willingness to run with that. Queer up your business, queer up your involvement with the community. It would seem it would make good business sense,” Breaskpear concludes.