As the deadline to pay business improvement area taxes approaches, some business and property owners say they’re unhappy with how the money is being spent.
Sam Yehia, owner of the Cambie on Victoria Crescent, pays $553 annually in levies to the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association. He said he has watched as other parts of downtown Nanaimo, specifically Commercial Street, have enjoyed rejuvenation and other efforts to make downtown more attractive, while Victoria Crescent has been ignored.
“Victoria Crescent has been neglected,” said Yehia. “I feel like the bastard cousin that never gets any attention. Improved lighting goes all the way to Cavan Street and it stops. Beautification goes all the way to Commercial Street and it stops.
“Flower baskets up to Victoria Crescent and then stops … it’s unnerving to say the least. I don’t know if it’s politics or what, but I do know our block gets neglected and left behind.”
The DNBIA collects more than $200,000 annually in levies from business and property owners to revitalize downtown. That money is matched by Nanaimo taxpayers and allotted to the DNBIA to perform its work. The levies are proportionate to property taxes and are due on the same day.
“Victoria Crescent is an area we recognize as needing revitalization and while we’re aware of some of the frustrations, it is part of our plan,” said Corry Hostetter, DNBIA general manager, noting that hanging baskets are not a DNBIA service, though it has consulted with the city to include the crescent. “We’ve included bike racks and purchased new Christmas decorations for the street, but other areas need attention too, and with our budget we can only do so much in one area at once.”
She added that the China Steps have remained a priority for the DNBIA.
Yehia also said he contributed $10,000 to have lighting improved on Victoria Crescent several years ago after a study revealed that illumination there was not adequate and helped foster illegal activity such as drugs and prostitution, as well as the potential for assault and theft.
In its 2005 annual report, the DNBIA (called Downtown Nanaimo Partnership Society at the time), under capital projects, approved $184,000 to install improved lighting on Victoria Crescent.
It was approved again in 2006 for $255,000, and in that year’s financial report it states “Victoria Crescent street lighting was approved over a period of years and installed in 2007.”
Except it wasn’t. New lighting was installed, however, up Bastion Street to Fitzwilliam Street and into the Old City Quarter and along Wesley Street in 2003.
In 2007, new lighting was also installed along Commercial, Albert and Wallace streets.
“I gave them money to light Victoria Crescent,” said Yehia.
Capital projects such as street lighting are funded through the city.
Blake McGuffie, who sat on the DNPS board as treasurer during that time, told the News Bulletin the board intended lighting to be installed on Victoria Crescent.
In 2009, the DNPS underwent wholesale structural, staff and charter changes after barely surviving a city council initiated petition that revealed only 52 per cent of levy payers were happy with the organization.
George Oliver, who also owns property on Victoria Crescent, said the $3,000 he has paid in BIA levies over the last six years could have been better spent.
“I could have painted my building or improved it somehow. Instead, we’re taxed at arm’s length and we never know where the money goes. We sure don’t see it coming to Victoria Crescent,” he said.
Jerry Hong, owner of The Queen’s nightclub on Victoria Crescent and board member of the DNBIA, said the street has come a long way largely because of DNBIA efforts.
“Speaking as a business owner, I feel like a lot has been done to improve this area,” said Hong. “I’m not sure what people are complaining about. There’s no crackheads there anymore, there are no drug dealers, there are no people sleeping on the sidewalk, compared to what it was before. I mean, really? If that’s not improvement, what is? The DNBIA even has its own office on Victoria Crescent.”