Dunbar-Southlands: Merchants come around on BIA

When merchants voted in 2008 on whether to establish the Dunbar Village Business Association, the count was close. But during the business improvement association’s review five years later, only one respondent officially opposed its renewal, says the BIA’s executive director, Janet Morris-Reade.
“Out of the 125 property owners and almost 300 businesses, there was one,” she said.
Residents, business owners and community leaders say the BIA has improved connections between businesses, community groups and
“It has had a huge impact on the sense of community in the neighbourhood,” said John Stephens, the rector of St. Philip’s Church on West 27th Avenue at Dunbar Street. The BIA has added benches, bike racks, street banners and plantings. It has improved communication among business owners, with community organizations and residents and shared information with the city’s 21 other BIAs. The association publishes a magazine called Dunbar Life to market area businesses to neighbours, brings the public out to events and has attracted many volunteers and volunteer hours, according to Morris-Reade.
“Nobody wants to pay extra taxes and that’s essentially what forming a BIA means,” she said. “So in the first five years we had to prove why a BIA is a good idea.”
The association has approved a budget of $155,000 for 2013-14 with the largest expenditure on marketing followed by beautification, administration and member communication. Morris-Reade said the money is raised through a tax levy collected by the city and paid in two installments to the BIA.
Property owners in an area covered by a BIA pay a special property tax that’s based on the value of the property they occupy. Most property owners pass this cost on to the business tenants. Brent Hawkins, who runs Dunbar Vacuums Ltd., opposed the formation of a BIA and still wishes it didn’t exist.
He said seasonal events that include the upcoming Harvest Festival, Halloween and winter festivities, have brought people together, but he still believes the BIA is a waste of money.
“They’re drawing people from every other area including Dunbar [close to Halloween],” Hawkins said. “There’s so many kids that don’t live around here but they’re coming in for the free candy.”
He believes businesses should concentrate on caring for their storefronts.
The Dunbar Village Improvement Association covers three distinct sections of Dunbar: from 16th to 19th, King Edward to 30th, and between 38th and 41st and east along 41st to Collingwood Street. Hawkins believes the association should only cover the central section and not the more service-oriented northern end, where he is.
“The middle gets it all,” he said.
Hawkins said he didn’t participate in the recent vote on renewing the BIA and no longer gets involved in its affairs.
Jessica Hotz, owner of Kokopelli Cafe, championed a Dunbar BIA and says the association has achieved what she hoped —  bringing residents and businesses together and beautifying the area.
“There’s now a central place where people can go and find out what’s going on,” she said. “Sometimes how can they get involved.”
Irene Regan, a longtime resident of Dunbar who volunteers at The HOB secondhand clothing store, which as a non-profit isn’t a member of the BIA, believes the Dunbar Village Business Association has helped bring people together in a community where residents are working to establish a stronger identity now that rezoning and redevelopment in the area are imminent.

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