Vancouver's Cambie Street merchants are sticking to their guns in a quest for compensation for disruptions caused by the Richmond-Airport Vancouver (RAV) rapid transit line - even though authorities continue to say no.
"I'm very frustrated with the level of transparency on this whole project," said Susan Heyes, owner of Hazel and Co., a maternity and women's clothing store at Cambie and 16th Avenue.
"We're getting no straight answers."
She made the comments to reporters after questioning officials at a recent public meeting that discussed plans for the controversial cut-and-cover method of building an underground line along Cambie.
|Wayne Chose, Business Edge|
|Susan Heyes, left, and Abby Palmer are among Cambie Street merchants who say RAV construction will wreck the local economy.|
The 19-km RAV line is slated to be built by 2009, in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Cambie stretch of RAV will be mostly underground.
The leg between 2nd and 37th avenues is slated to be built between 2006-2008 via the cut-and-cover method, rather than a bored tunnel.
Heyes and other merchants contend the cut-and-cover method will deter pedestrian and vehicle access, and drive customers away because of noise and health concerns. They argue that the originally planned bored tunnel would have had fewer impacts.
"My business is going to die," Heyes said during the public meeting.
RAVCO, the organization co-ordinating RAV's construction, its parent group TransLink and the City of Vancouver are refusing to provide compensation, based on a policy not to pay businesses for construction-related disruptions.
The Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines, Cambie Street bridge reconstruction, Cassiar Street connector near the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, Granville Mall - which was closed to traffic on a permanent basis - are just a few of many transportation projects which did not result in compensation for businesses.
"When you're building a project of this size in a growing city, there will be construction impacts," said Jane Bird, RAVCO's chief executive.
"It's just a fact of life."
Bird and other officials with RAVCO and SNC-Lavalin contended that the process of approving RAV would have to start all over again if an alternative to the cut-and-cover method was used. She said cut-and-cover will benefit or hurt merchants depending on where their businesses are located.
RAVCO has retained a retail consultant to help merchants and will assist with research on how people get to their businesses.
It has also set up a business liaison committee that intends to help companies offset negative financial impacts throughout construction and devise a traffic-management plan.
But merchants contend that compensation is necessary this time because RAV's disruptions will be much longer - up to two years, in some cases.
"I can't imagine a scenario where my business would survive this," said Heyes, who has operated her company for 22 years and is a member of the citizens' group known as Do RAV Right. "A pregnant woman would have to be highly motivated to want to come anywhere near this district.
"You're not going to sit outside cafes, you're not going to go and rent a movie or have take-out food. It's going to be a disaster. And where are all the cars going to go? People who live in the neighbourhood are going to have cars darting down their side-streets non-stop."
Abby Palmer, owner of the Gardening Circle plant shop on Cambie near 17th Avenue, dismissed RAVCO's and other merchants' suggestions of construction-site tours and coupons for construction workers as ways to support businesses while RAV is being built.
"It's laughable, some of the suggestions that they're coming up with, as a way of trying to keep people in business," said Palmer, who opened her shop seven months ago. "It's going to be too little too late."
As a result, she is thinking hard about relocating her business.
"I'm looking for a (new) location every day," said Palmer, who is also a member of Do RAV Right. She and Heyes both stress they support RAV, but want it built in a way that does not harm people's health - or businesses' bank accounts.
"Most businesses along here are small owner-operated (enterprises)," noted Palmer. "They don't have huge cash-flow cushions. Many of them are operating month to month. They're making their rent money every month and taking a little bit of money here and there, but this (RAV-related downturn) is going to happen so fast."
A judge ordered the meeting to be held after the Do RAV Right group took RAVCO to court on grounds that a longer public-consultation period was needed on the cut-and-cover technique. Citing competitive concerns, RAVCO did not reveal the cut-and-cover strategy until SNC-Lavalin's best and final offer was accepted in December, and still has not divulged the entire plan.
Mark Startup, president and CEO of Retail BC, which advocates for retailers across the province, said RAV's construction is "a precedent-setting issue" when it comes to compensating business operators.
"We do feel that merchants deserve some kind of compensation," Startup told Business Edge. "We don't know what that would look like yet. It's new, it's fresh, we're talking to merchants along the line, but I do feel when your life is going to be disrupted to the extent that these retailers' lives are going to be disrupted, the person responsible for that needs to listen to you. They need to be reasonable and they need to come up with something."
In addition to figuring out how much compensation is necessary, merchants need to determine who will pay for it. RAV is a public-private partnership funded by Ottawa, the province, TransLink and SNC-Lavalin, which is slated to operate the line for 30 years as a means of recuperating its costs.
"If fairness and equity are on top of all those stakeholders' minds ... we should be able to come to a solution," said Startup.
The Vancouver Board of Trade is not advocating a compensation program, because it believes RAV's gains will easily outweigh its pains.
But Startup said merchants are concerned about loss of business during construction and increased rents.
To offset the damage, Cambie merchants have started marketing the stretch between 25th and 2nd avenues as Cambie Village. Cambie merchants and RAVCO are also exploring such options as a marketing and awareness campaign that emphasizes shops are still open for business and tax adjustments for landlords of retailers.
Pat Jacobsen, TransLink's president, who lives in the Cambie area, said many major projects caused disruptions for long periods of time. But the alternative to RAV - more diesel buses and vehicle traffic - would be much worse, she added.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at email@example.com)