In a year when our member businesses and organizations were navigating the unprecedented impacts and existing challenges made worse by the global pandemic, providing a collective advocacy voice on the wide range of issues impacting our members has never been more important. We’re consistently working with our members, government partners, and industry professionals to move the dial on a wide range of economic, social, and environmental actions for the benefit of our members.
Rising property taxes continue to be one of the greatest challenges facing local businesses and property owners in Strathcona. For the third consecutive year, we held a Property Tax Workshop in January to help members navigate the property assessment appeal process, and a 2021 tool-kit was created to help the membership better understand and navigate property taxes. Many property owners experienced significant jumps in their taxes yet again this year, since despite protests from us and other BIAs, the Province decided not to apply the 70% reduction in School Tax as they did in 2020. We continue to advocate with other BIAs for commercial tax reforms and changes to the Provincial property valuation system and we’re lobbying for legislative change to achieve lower taxation and valuation on existing use, through new tools such as split assessments.
Sanitation and Graffiti Removal
Through advocacy efforts by the BIA’s, the City approved additional funding for street cleaning programming City-wide, including $2.1 million in funding for the 2021 Street Cleaning Grant Program. We will continue to advocate for street cleaning resources, lane flushing, and debris removal to make sure the district is clean and welcoming for everyone. The City has also invested in animal and human waste removal services, basing this program off a pilot project initiated by the Strathcona BIA. These additional City-provided street cleaning services help offset our service costs, provide more targeted resources, and allow us to support members with more private property debris pick-ups.
In partnership with other BIA districts across Vancouver we were also able to advocate for more funding to support the challenging rise of graffiti tags across our districts. We received $35,000 from the City of Vancouver for additional graffiti removal services through this advocacy effort. We will continue to raise the impacts graffiti has on our district and members.
To learn more about the impacts of our sanitation programming visit our Safety and Sanitation report.
Temporary Expedited Patio Permit Program
Quick, cheap, and cheerful patios have been a lifeblood for restaurants, cafes, and breweries over the past 18 months. In partnership with all 22 BIAs, we advocated for the creation of this program that allows businesses to apply for a free permit to set up a temporary patio, meaning food-sector businesses could be approved and up and running with a temporary patio in a number of days. Prior to this program this process could take several months of back and forth communications and headaches. To amplify the patio dining experience and to encourage customers to dine on patios all summer long, Strathcona BIA joined 15 other districts for the promotional PATIO campaign, which included a city-wide contest to crown the best patios in the city. Learn more about the campaign in our marketing and promotions report.
The community has embraced the patios, in particular at breweries, where they weren’t permitted before. We’ve been liaising with our local breweries and the City to make sure they are able to share their insights on how to make the patios permanent moving forward. This decision will be going to City Council in September where we plan to wholeheartedly support this positive impact for the brewery sector.
In Railtown, we helped navigate and obtain approvals for a Tailgate BBQ activation by Railtown Cafe to happen down the street from their cafe location. The three day event went off without a hitch in July, and it was fabulous to see community members, business members, and employees out in the sun, safely enjoying a delicious outdoor dining experience.
Community-Serving Retail Project
The Community-Serving Retail Project, running since 2017, is a collective initiative between the Strathcona BIA, Dunefield, and Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, with funding provided by the City of Vancouver. It’s mission is to partner with Chinese Benevolent Society Buildings and other non-profits in Strathcona and Chinatown to secure and repurpose currently unused or underused commercial space for affordable, culturally significant retail and businesses that support the community. With over 25 Chinese Benevolent Society buildings in Strathcona, this project has lots of potential in our district, and in the last year we’ve helped advocate for and received $216,725 in City funding for this project.
Following a first successful pilot in Chinatown with the re-opening of Kam Wai Dim Sum, the project team is now working with the Vancouver Buddhist Temple in Strathcona. They are aiming to create a community-based kitchen in their large building that benefits small food entrepreneurs and supports the Temple’s mission and finances. The first activation has recently started at the Temple, with a small soup and cold-pressed juice business now cooking there for a short time, while also serving the community with food donations and giving workshops on affordable, healthy cooking. We’re excited to see the Temple continue to welcome more community-minded food startups!
Oppenheimer and Strathcona Park
We continue to advocate for our parks and green spaces so that the community can enjoy them. Our advocacy around Oppenheimer Park began back in 2019 when we called for the return of the park to its original purpose as a green and social space. Other calls for action included asking for more support from the City for more access to clean water, public washrooms, and street cleaning resources. When another encampment started in Strathcona Park in mid-2020, we joined an appeal for action along with the Strathcona Residents Association, Produce Row, and Strathcona Community Policing Centre. A phased reopening of both parks has finally happened in 2021, involving collaboration of multiple levels of government, new housing opportunities for vulnerable community members, and community input and advocacy efforts on how best to reimagine the use of these important green spaces.
Drinker’s Lounge Project
In March 2021, in partnership with the City of Vancouver, Portland Hotel Society, VANDU, Vancouver Police and other stakeholders, we worked towards a solution to help address public drinking in front of the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings and at adjacent bus stops. After almost nine months of conflict, difficult conversations, trial and error, meetings with city engineers, and hard advocacy work, a pilot project emerged. The pilot involves a city-sanctioned parklet on Princess Ave where folks can go to drink safely and legally. There are social-service supports on-hand, medical attention on site, and more attention from the City, the VPD, and the SBIA in ensuring that drink activity is monitored, people are supported, and business concerns are addressed.
Since the launch of the pilot, a sense of community has emerged among people who use the space, and they have developed strong stewardship over the parklet area. Public drinking at the Astoria bus stops did not cease, however due to engagement by community groups and reporting by our Safety team, progress is being made, and we have noticed a stronger presence and support from the VPD when challenges arise at this location.
This project is a story of unlikely allies and we must continue to work together towards a vision for a safer community.
A spotlight on our advocacy and partnership work.
Partnership is critical to successful advocacy on behalf of our business members. Some of these partnerships have recently been in the media spotlight. In this post you’ll find:
- Details on what we’re doing to address street disorder on the 700 & 800 blocks of East Hastings and what a new parklet on Princess Avenue has to do with it.
- How activating empty storefronts in Chinatown leads to big wins for Strathcona businesses.
- The lowdown on Oppenheimer Park and everything we know about its path to re-opening.
East Hastings Street Disorder
In Strathcona, the path to how we arrive at a healthy and safe commercial district is complex. In partnership with the City of Vancouver, Portland Hotel Society, VANDU, Vancouver Police and other stakeholders, we’ve been working towards a solution to help address public drinking in front of the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings and at adjacent bus stops. After almost nine months of conflict, difficult conversations, trial and error, meetings with city engineers, and hard advocacy work, a pilot project has emerged.
The full scope of the pilot project was captured by Dan Fumano, in his article last week and includes quotes from his interview with Strathcona BIA Executive Director Theodora Lamb. The article also dives into more detail about the harm-reduction model behind the parklet.
About the Pilot Project
The pilot project involves a city-sanctioned parklet on Princess Ave where folks who have been occupying the bus stops in front of the Astoria Hotel can go to drink safely and legally. A city-sanctioned parklet means there are social service supports on-hand, medical attention on site, and more attention from the City, the VPD, and the SBIA in ensuring that drinking activity is monitored, people are supported, and business concerns are addressed. What comes next will be efforts to move activity from the Hastings bus stops to the parklet (where the PHS-run Drinker’s Lounge has been operating for 10 years) and ensure businesses and property owners around the parklet are fully heard and supported. If that’s you, stay tuned for more from the SBIA and the City of Vancouver.
We’ve heard loud and clear that more consultation is required and that our members, time and again, end up having to support the solutions to Strathcona’s complex social challenges on their own.
While we believe that Strathcona businesses will play a big role in solutions, the SBIA is doing everything in its power to ensure the advocacy work and heavy lifting does not rest on your shoulders, but on ours.
Additional Safety Measures
Meanwhile, our safety patrol team will be increasing their checks of the parklet starting this week and up to four times a day, seven days a week. Regular meetings will be scheduled with the VPD regarding parklet activity. Additional street cleaning resources will be directed to the area and, for those members in and around the parklet and who desire it, regular communication will be set up.
The Parklet is an imperfect solution. But we believe this group of unlikely allies, who first came together to address the concerns of businesses, have the attention of the right decision makers and a vision for a safer community.
If you’re a business or property owner operating in and around 111 Princess Ave and you want to ensure we don’t miss you in our outreach, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the parklet impact listserv.
Activating Vacant Storefront Spaces
You may have heard about Kam Wai Dim Sum opening up in Chinatown a couple weeks ago. Their reopening is part of a pilot project that the Strathcona BIA sponsors called the Community-Serving Retail Project. This project was launched to address vacant space in Chinese Benevolent Society Buildings, of which about 50 or so remain spread out evenly across both Strathcona and Chinatown BIAs. The first successful pilot landed in Chinatown, and there are several future locations underway, including in Strathcona.
How This Initiative Works
This initiative is a partnership between the Strathcona BIA, Dunefield, and Youth Collaborative for Chinatown where the aim is to partner with Chinese Society Buildings and other non-profit buildings in Strathcona and Chinatown that have underused commercial space. The project team supports the non-profit building owners with property management challenges, building and space improvements, and assists them with finding reliable tenants including restaurants, eateries, retail, and production businesses. It’s a remarkable story of storefront activation that is helping create affordable space opportunities for community-serving retail businesses in both Strathcona and Chinatown.
The funding for this project comes from the City of Vancouver, specifically, the DTES Capital Grants program which awards funds annually to community projects just like this. As an organization, we’ve had tremendous success in applying for these funds. As project sponsor, the funds flow through, not from, the Strathcona BIA – a registered non-profit society – to the project team for the pilot locations.
Do you want to start or expand a community-serving business in Chinatown or Strathcona, and are in need of affordable space and other support? Does your society or not-for-profit have underused commercial space that could accommodate community-serving business? Get in touch with us at email@example.com to learn more about the program.
Oppenheimer Park Reopening
Both Oppenheimer and Strathcona Parks have had their fair share of newsworthy headlines over the last few years. The work to de-camp Strathcona Park and house the residents currently living in its homeless camp is happening right now.
If you’re wondering about Oppenheimer Park, when it will reopen, and what the plan is to ensure it remains the public green space it was always meant to be, you’re not alone. The Strathcona BIA reached out to Parks Board staff to get the low-down on what businesses in and around the park can expect in the coming weeks and months. According to Ian Stewart, Manager of Park Development with the Vancouver Parks Board, there is no firm reopening date set yet.
Stewart’s team is responsible for park development. They’ve been busy implementing a number of restoration improvements since the Park’s decampment last May. “We have embarked on a series of conversations with park users to determine how to ensure that a park reopening can be conducted safely, and best serve local residents who desire access to the park’s amenities” says Stewart.
The Strathcona BIA has requested a meeting with Stewart and his team to discuss how local business members will be consulted about the Park’s re-opening. As soon as we know more, we’ll be reaching out to members regarding that engagement.
If you’re a business or property owner operating in and around Oppenheimer Park and you want to be directly looped into the Park reopening news, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to an outreach list.
We’re sharing a letter prepared by the Strathcona Residents Association, Strathcona Business Improvement Association, Produce Row Business Committee, Strathcona Community Safety Association, and Strathcona Community Policing Centre regarding the current homeless encampment at Strathcona Park. Jointly representing over 850 businesses and over 16,000 residents in Strathcona, these organizations have come together share our views with Municipal and Provincial Leaders.
June 25, 2020
Honourable John Horgan, Premier, Province of BC
Honourable Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Province of BC
Honourable Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Province of BC
Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, Province of BC
Mayor Kennedy Stewart, City of Vancouver
Vancouver Park Board Comissioners, City of Vancouver
Vancouver City Councillors, City of Vancouver
Re: An Appeal for Immediate Action in Strathcona Park
On behalf of organizations representing the residents and businesses of Strathcona, we are asking for urgent support and attention from the BC Provincial Government, the City of Vancouver, and the Vancouver Park Board to immediately clear Strathcona Park of its current encampment and identify a permanent site for campers, therefore bringing the cycle of displacement to an end.
As representatives of over 850 businesses and 16,470 residents living in and operating across the district and community of Strathcona, we must work to strike a balance between the needs and safety of both the campers themselves and the community that surrounds them. Our organizations operate with sincere respect and compassion for our city’s current homeless situation and all those impacted by it, and with continuing mission commitments to serve the disadvantaged and underprivileged in our midst.
Strathcona Park is unambiguously the wrong place for government, through inaction, to seemingly encourage and endorse acceptance of this ad-hoc campground. Our collective community experiences from Oppenheimer Park show us that, with even the best intentions demonstrated by community organizers and the campers themselves, violence, sexual assault, and crime are inevitable outcomes of a community constantly facing displacement under the lagging attention of all levels of government. The businesses and residents who directly surround Oppenheimer Park carried the costly burden of these community impacts and our concern is that this cycle is set to repeat itself at Strathcona Park.
Strathcona has long been deeply underserved in greenspace compared to other districts and communities in Vancouver. With Oppenheimer Park still out of commission, and summer arriving amidst a global pandemic, the need for greenspace has never been greater. This will be all the more critical as we approach BC’s Phase 3 of pandemic reopening and the July 1st beginning of the city’s recreational sports programming. The current encampment will inevitably grow beyond the bounds of any partition within Strathcona Park, and beyond the capacity of any internal, external or collaborative effort to manage it safely for all concerned. This will cripple opportunities for residents, employees of local businesses, gardeners, dog walkers, sports teams, children’s daycamps and anyone seeking to enjoy the park space. Distancing guidelines mandated by the Office of the Provincial Health Officer underline the need to have large, accessible, local outdoor spaces available to community residents, employees, and visitors.
The issues are complex. So are the solutions – we acknowledge that safe, supportive housing is what’s ultimately required and will not be quickly found or created. But this cycle of displacement of temporary encampments in our public parks must and can end with a city-sanctioned site for campers, where resources and support can be directed and the surrounding community can be mobilized to ensure the best outcomes for all those involved.
The community of Strathcona, which is in many respects part of the Downtown Eastside, is under no illusions regarding its responsibility to our city’s most vulnerable citizens. We know we will be called upon to support our homeless community, time and again. We know that more housing is needed to support those who seek refuge in our city parks. We are asking our provincial and municipal government leaders not to shirk their formal responsibility in this matter. With appropriate will and resolve there are much better places to facilitate a stable, sustainable encampment until more enduring solutions can be implemented.
We await your response, as well as your action.
Strathcona Residents Association
Strathcona Business Improvement Association
Produce Row Business Committee
Strathcona Community Safety Association
Strathcona Community Policing Centre
Strathcona Business Improvement Association
The following letter was sent by the Strathcona BIA to Mayor Stewart, Vancouver City Councillors, Parks Board Commissioners and the office of the Vancouver City Manager on January 6th, 2020.
Businesses operating in and around Oppenheimer Park are no longer in a position to safely support staff and customers coming into the community. The Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) is calling upon City and Parks Board Officials for the immediate housing of park residents and a detailed timeline on when the housing will occur.
In August 2019, the SBIA surveyed its members regarding activity in Oppenheimer Park. 83% of SBIA members surveyed agreed efforts should be made to return the park to its original purpose as a green, recreation and social space. The Strathcona BIA committed, on behalf of its members, to closely watch how the city and parks board proceed in addressing the concerns raised by local businesses in the survey results.
Unfortunately, over the last six months, the Strathcona BIA has only seen conditions worsen for both park residents and business members operating next to or near the park. The recent death that occurred in the park on January 1, 2020, is a tragic tipping point and the Strathcona BIA feels a responsibility to raise its concerns on behalf of its members with city and parks board officials, calling for support to prioritize housing immediately.
The Strathcona Safety team works to support over 800 SBIA members. This includes operating a two-person safety team 7 days a week, 8 hours a day who monitor 44 city square blocks across seven sub-districts and respond to business member needs and safety concerns.
From July 2019 to January 2020, the Strathcona BIA safety team reported that 46.9% of their time was spent in the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (DEOD) which includes Oppenheimer Park, resulting in 2,704 unique reports. That is 2.8 times more than any other sub-district the Strathcona BIA monitors and a 5% jump from the first half of 2019 when the initial survey results were reported out.
Our safety team members take every precaution to ensure their own safety is prioritized so they can address the needs and concerns of Strathcona BIA members. Given the recent activity in Oppenheimer, the Strathcona BIA can no longer direct its safety team to walk through or even along the perimeter of the park, leaving businesses surrounding the park more vulnerable.
The SBIA has also noted a significant increase in trash and debris along the perimeter of the park. Micro-cleaners from Strathcona-based Mission Possible, a social enterprise that employs individuals who face barriers to traditional employment, spend up to 16 hours each week cleaning the Oppenheimer area. From in and around the park, on average, Mission Possible picks up 7.7 needles per hour and fills 12 large garbage bags of debris each week. . After the release of our report last summer, the Strathcona BIA increased street cleaning around the park in response to members citing “Health & Cleanliness” as one of their primary park concerns. From late September to early December, the SBIA implemented an additional eight street cleaning hours in the DEOD per week.
Frustration is growing among business members who continue to feel the impact of park activity on their staff, sales, and connection with the community. Given the role businesses serve in and around Oppenheimer Park in contributing to the local economy and further supporting community connections, we request the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Parks Board provide Strathcona BIA members with an immediate response regarding next steps.
Executive Director, Strathcona BIARead More
On April 29th, 2019 Vancouver City Council voted in favour of a 2% tax shift from commercial property tax to residential over the next three years. The tax roll will shift one per cent in 2019 and 0.5 per cent in both 2020 and 2021. Businesses that own or are a tenant in an average commercial property can expect savings of $508 in 2019. Currently, businesses shoulder 42% of the property tax burden while consuming only 23% of City services.
As part of our ongoing commercial tax advocacy in service to our members, SBIA Executive Director Theo Lamb, along with several other BIA leaders, spoke to Council in person and ultimately made the winning case that led to a majority Vancouver City Councillor vote in favour of this tax shift.
Vancouver has not seen a tax shift since 2012. We see this as a positive first step in addressing the unfair tax burden shouldered by the business community of Vancouver. There are many issues and drivers that contribute to high property taxes, and we look forward to working with stakeholders and the City to advocate for continued solutions and policies that provide relief to our commercial property owners and tenant businesses and organizations.Read More
The Strathcona BIA Renewal process has concluded. On March 8, 2017 City Council approved the renewal term of seven years through 2024 and the funding cap.
During the various consultation sessions members identified many key priorities such as beautification initiatives and public perception of the area, as well as wanting to see continued investment in safety, property maintenance and cleaning programs.
Now that the process has wrapped up we can look ahead and begin evaluating and implementing additional programs such as:
- Beautification projects that could include public art pieces like installations, sculptures, murals, upgraded lighting etc.
- Pilot program to address and support members with debris on private property including hazardous material.
- Sustainable transportation advocacy plan that incorporates parking, movement of goods and people and curbside uses.
- Implementation of a Community Policing Centre on East Hastings.
- Strengthen our advocacy work at various government levels.
Thank you to all our members for your ongoing support, especially those who take the time to submit feedback and attend working sessions. Your feedback is what shapes the programming.
We look forward to working with, and on your behalf to build a thriving mixed-use, inclusive, and resilient local economy.