Doug Ausman: the Lower Lonsdale Business Improvement Association

By Cristina Padres

As Lower Lonsdale evolves into a vibrant and thriving neighbourhood, it will face challenges that will require leadership. The good news is that, after more than six years in the making, the City of North Vancouver council approved the Lower Lonsdale Business Improvement Association (BIA) last month. But what does having a BIA mean for the community of Lower Lonsdale? We chatted with Doug Ausman, Project Coordinator and Past-President of the Lower Lonsdale Business Association, about the newly created BIA and what can the community expect from it.  

Cristina Padres: What is the vision of the Lower Lonsdale BIA? 

Doug Ausman: We want the BIA to be a big player in helping and determining the revitalization of the area. We want to turn Lower Lonsdale into a first class area that is attractive to new residents, as well as to welcome visitors from the Lower Mainland. We want Lower Lonsdale to be a real destination spot and we want to be on the tourist map. Right now when the hundreds thousands of cruise ship passengers come to the North Shore, they head to Grouse Mountain and to Capilano Suspension Bridge. That’s it. If tourists have a stop in Lower Lonsdale with activities and far more and better shopping, it would enhance the business and residential community. Our goal is to be a world-class segment of the Lower Mainland and become a real attraction for people to live, work, shop, dine and other activities of recreation. My wife and I moved into Lower Lonsdale about 14 years ago. The area has changed dramatically since then, but what we loved at the time and is still the attraction is that we could walk to everything. Almost every service we need is right here.

One of the visions we have is that there will be far more commercial activity, more upscale and new kinds of businesses to fill in the gaps of what is missing for our very walkable area. There are also two new schools opening up in the area. One is St. Alcuin College, a private school, which offers Kindergarten to Grade 12, and will be located at 300 West Esplanade. Also City Council has given the nod to the request of the School District and the Province to build a new school somewhere in Lower Lonsdale. It is still probably 6 to 10 years away, but it will happen. In the North Shore, the neighbourhood area with the fastest growing demographic of young children is now Lower Lonsdale. More young families are also part of the BIA’s vision.

CP: What can residents expect from the changes that are coming to Lower Lonsdale? 

DA: Residents can expect the opening up of the waterfront to the public. All along the North Shore –aside from a few parks here and there and the Ambleside-Dundarave seawall in West Vancouver– there is very little access to the public to the waterfront. It will open up dramatically, not just to enjoy the view and walk, but activities to do. For families with kids, the Shipyards will offer lots of entertainment, movies, concerts, festival, crafts fairs and more events. 

People will have access to better public transit. More buses will depart from the bus terminal, right in the heart of Lower Lonsdale. Also the funds are available for the Seabus to start running every 10 minuteswhen the third one is available.

For residents that want an urban active lifestyle, it will be great. All of this taking place in a safe, more neighbourhood environment than in downtown Vancouver. My wife and I describe Lower Lonsdale as like living in Victoria, just a Seabus away from the big cosmopolitan downtown Vancouver. We can go there and come home to our quiet, comfortable neighbourhood. 

CP: Let’s talk about the business development of Lower Lonsdale, what can we expect in the near future? 

DA: There will be hundreds of new business units available in the next few years. The Shipyards’ $35 million development will include retail services in the ground floor, as well as a new hotel. West Quay also has a ground floor dedicated to commercial units. Some of the older, rundown single stories buildings will be redevelop likely with the same pattern of residential units in the top and commercial units below. 

One of the possibilities of the BIA is for businesses in the area to pay a lower BIA levy because there will be far more businesses sharing the same contribution. Also, there is a general consensus at City Council that the commercial property rates are far too high. Right now if someone rents a 1,100 square foot condo, with the same assessed value as a business premise, the resident pays only one quarter of the property tax than what a business unit pays. Rent is a big business expense because it includes the property tax. The BIA will want to tackle City Council on the question of getting that 4 to 1 commercial business tax down. We want to bring some fairness to how businesses are treated in Lower Lonsdale. They don’t even get a vote!

CP: What are the first steps the BIA needs to take in the upcoming months?

DA: We want to hit the ground running pretty quickly.  It can take a year just to get organized. We don’t want to do that. The first step is getting our board of directors, which then have to be ratified. As of today, it looks like we have at least 11 directors volunteered. They are prominent people in both large and small businesses, active in the community. From there the BIA will develop a new name and a brand as quickly as we can; what to call it and what kind of theme to have. It seems to be leaning towards the Shipyards and Maritime theme because that is where the area is shaping up and it is the most prominent feature in the area. For example, the BIA of Commercial Drive just calls itself “The Drive”.The third step might be the development of the strategic plan for the first year, and longer term.The fourth is taking some kind of action during the first few months that is visible. Something that the business community and others will say, “Wow, we are starting to see things happening already.” It will be an unexpected positive. The fourth step is the development of the strategic plan for the first year.

CP: What are other responsibilities will the BIA have? 

DA: Typically what BIAs try to focus on, among other things, is the beautification of the area. We will be doing it as well. The City has already done a great job of bringing some beautification to Lower Lonsdale. Other BIAs sometimes do that.  We will also work with other big players like developers, the City, Translink and ICBC. A great example is the fact that Polygon has budgeted money to improve the Carrie Cates Court tunnel right by the bus terminal at the Quay.  But the planned improvements don’t go along the lines of what Roger Brooks International recommended three years ago. Through the BIA, we found out the plans are only going to be for the tunnel, not for the bus terminal. We raised the issue with the City and Polygon and resurrected Roger Brooks’ proposal, which, among other things, mentions that public or donated money, like Polygon’s, shouldn’t be the only source of funds. What Brooks recommended is get major business sponsors to cover the cost of a competition among artists to do something bright and artful with the space.

However, things like this don’t happen unless there is a champion. Perhaps the BIA can be the champion and push along and make things happen, without costing the BIA money is out there for these kinds of community contributions. 

"As a past Director of the Lower Lonsdale Business Association, I can attest to the great work this largely volunteer association has accomplished. The introduction of the Business Improvement Area will allow Lower Lonsdale to fast track its transformation into the gem of the North Shore." –Greg Pearson