Construction may have only just begun last Friday, May 13, 2016, but the new Jim Deva Plaza should be complete and ready for this year’s Pride celebrations in late July.
“We’re going to be going non-stop to meet that Pride deadline,” says Karen Hoese, Vancouver’s acting assistant director of planning for downtown.
“We are doing everything we can to move forward,” she says.
“We intend to be complete before the Pride week, but it’s probably going to take us most of the time to get there.”
The plaza will not only commemorate Deva (a beloved community leader who died suddenly in September 2014), but celebrate Vancouver’s LGBT community and create a programmed, public, pedestrian-only gathering space with seating and an overhead “ceiling of lights” in the heart of the Davie Village.
A lighting installation planned above the rainbow crosswalk intersection at Davie and Bute Streets also remains part of the plaza design, but Hoese says some repairs and adjustments to the existing infrastructure are needed before construction can begin.
One of the main planning debates concerns how the plaza will be managed. After the pilot project, which ran from July 2013 to September 2014, it became clear that issues such as cleanliness and loitering would need to be addressed.
(A side view of the construction site, shot from the southeast corner of Bute and Davie Streets./Layla Cameron/Daily Xtra)
“There was a little bit of public drinking that was not sanctioned as part of any event or special programming. It seemed to be increasingly a place where recreational drugs or dealing was happening there, there were some people camping for the day or sleeping under a bench,” says Stephen Regan, executive director of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA). “Businesses sometimes woke up to a mess that had to be cleaned up, or made their employees uncomfortable late at night.”
In response to these concerns, Regan says ongoing regular programming will keep the plaza a welcoming and positive space. “Without that, the negative behaviours might come back,” he says.
The Deva Plaza Oversight Committee, the first of its kind in Vancouver, will ensure the plaza “is and remains vibrant, safe and reflective of all citizens’ needs for many years to come,” says Barb Snelgrove, who sits on the committee and the city’s LGBTTQ2+ Advisory Committee.
The oversight committee includes representatives from WEBIA and area businesses, family and friends of Deva, and other LGBT community members.
A Deva Plaza coordinator was recently hired to manage the plaza’s events and activities, Snelgrove notes.
To accommodate a variety of events, Regan says the plaza will be as much of an open space as possible. “Imagine a ballroom. The more pillars and permanent fixtures you have, the less flexible it is to do programming,” he says.
Last-minute design elements, such as the placement of permanent furniture and onsite storage, are also underway, he says.
The museum project to commemorate LGBT history and the community’s fight for its rights also continues to be an important component of the plaza, Snelgrove says. She says there have been many meetings to ensure the museum is done correctly.
“It is vital that this part of the overall plaza has the input of our LGBTQ elders from a diverse cross-section of our community as possible,” she says.
Snelgrove predicts most of the construction will occur in June.
“We’re excited that it’s moving forward, but with any of these projects you want to sweat the small stuff,” Regan says. “All of these details add up and make a big difference.”