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Steveston merchants divided over BIA bid
If you’ve noticed a little extra tension in the air in Steveston these days, that’s not your imagination playing tricks on you.
Emotions are running high, and in some cases tempers are flaring, over a proposal to start a new levy-funded business association for landowners and merchants along Chatham Street, Bayview Street, and Moncton Street west of Easthope Avenue.
The effort is being spearheaded by the Steveston Merchants Association, and president Jim van der Tas, who once had a passerby flip him the bird after word of the proposal went public late last year.
“I had no idea what a BIA was until 18 months ago,” said van der Tas about the proposal to start a Business Improvement Area association.
With the merchants association having been in place for four years, members discussed what the next step would be in growing the effort to better market Steveston.
van der Tas, who owns Blue Canoe Restaurant, said some members had friends who owned businesses in other cities with a business association, and the conversation grew from there.
Merchant associations are limited by a reliance on volunteerism and a lack of a budget, he said.
The Business Improvement Area would be funded through an annual levy, charged to landowners and merchants based on the assessed values of their properties. Property owners and shopkeepers can find out exactly what they would be contributing by e-mailing organizers at email@example.com.
van der Tas envisions a budget of roughly $200,000, which would fund the hiring of one or more staff tasked with bringing more business to Steveston, and enough funding to turn marketing and event plans into reality. He said he’s spoken to dozens of business owners who were initially against the idea, but when they learned their annual share might only be $200 to $400, thought it was good value.
There are 39 such BIAs in the Lower Mainland, with Richmond being the sole major area without one, he noted. While the potential benefits of a BIA are enticing, van der Tas is a realist, and believes that if the people in Steveston don’t want it, a BIA won’t form.
Asked what a BIA might do, van der Tas shared how one merchant suggested a massive Steveston celebration timed with the World Cup soccer championships being held this summer in Brazil.
It’s one of many great ideas for Steveston that van der Tas believes could reap rewards that would benefit businesses there.
“What we really need is somebody dedicated to it and more funding behind it,” van der Tas said of initiatives of this sort.
But not everyone is convinced adding another cost to running a businesses in Steveston is the right way to go.
If you ask Dominique Jarry, he believes the vast majority of merchants and landowners oppose the idea. He suggests the idea should be scrapped and has spoken to many fellow Steveston merchants and land owners about the topic.
While he doesn’t want Steveston merchants to be forced to pay a levy, he’s supportive of a different option that would bring the entire village together: non-profit groups, landlords, merchants, fishermen and business owners.
Jarry is fearful that the proposed $200,000 budget could balloon in the future, at the whim of those heading up the association. And he’s not thrilled about the process in sharing the information with those who would be directly impacted, and said it should be more public and transparent.
Rick Germain, owner of The Original Pure Water Shoppe since 2005, said that while van der Tas is well-intentioned, Germain doesn’t believe bringing in a new tax, and forcing that upon everyone in the designated zone, is the right choice. He called it “coercion.”
“The work they’ve done is commendable,” Germain said.
But using the “coercive power” of the municipality to force merchants to pay is “essentially wrong and morally wrong,” and called it “tantamount to theft.”
While he wouldn’t provide numbers, Germain said he and like-minded others opposing the BIA proposal have spoken personally to tenants and property owners who “overwhelmingly” supported a petition that opposes the BIA bid.
But Germain said the number of people who signed the petition is a large chunk of the 200-plus land owners and merchants in the affected area.
Like Jarry, he’s not convinced he would benefit from a BIA, and fears fees would continue to escalate.
But van der Tas said everyone who pays into the BIA would have a say in the annual fees, and any bid to increase it would have to be approved by the majority of members.
So what’s up next?
van der Tas said it could take six to 12 months to speak to each and every business owner and landlord, and he thinks a vote isn’t likely to become reality until the spring of 2015.
In the meantime, van der Tas said he’s committed to being open and transparent about the process, and hopes to cultivate more dialogue in the months to come.
With his work set out for him, he’s comforted by the words of a good friend: “Nothing worth doing is easy.”