With ongoing projects finishing up and new ones getting underway, 2012 was an eventful year for the Fort Langley Business Improvement Association (BIA), and Fort Langley in general. With seven new Board members this year, including myself, 2012 saw the BIA begin a transition to a leaner operation with sharper focus, establishing documented business planning, starting a plan for increased transparency, and the prioritization of meaningful, achievable work items given the BIA's limited financial resources.
The BIA started the year focused on successfully completing its renewal with the Township of Langley for a new five year mandate from local property owners, starting June 2012. Only two property owners objected to the renewal of the annual levy to fund the BIA's operations, a record low. As part of this renewal, the BIA's Business Improvement Area was expanded to include the Fort Langley National Historic Site and Brae Island Regional Park, and the levy increases slightly to account for inflation. The BIA's renewal was confirmed by Township Council on April 2, 2012.
After many years of inactivity, the commercial area of Fort Langley is beginning a significant renewal of its commercial buildings, with a number of exciting changes completed and started this year. First, The Bedford Landing residential development officially finished with a celebration during the Cranberry Festival, on October 6. This included the official completion of an extensive exterior renovation of the Fort Pub and Grill, with a new parking lot and patio on its south side, transforming it into an even better spot for outdoor summer relaxation.
From February to May, The Fort Mall received an extensive renovation and expansion of its parking lot, and an entirely new building facade, awnings, expanded 12' front sidewalk, and a new paved pathway from Glover Road to Church Street. The visual update and improved pedestrian feel to the south end of the commercial area has been dramatic, and long overdue. And a derelict house at the corner of Glover Road and Mary Avenue, in the centre of commercial area, was demolished in January of this year, and the corner now serves as a pleasant green space while it too awaits redevelopment.
In addition, three new commercial buildings are currently pending in the commercial area. The year saw the application and approval of the Coulter Berry Building, a three story mixed-use building that will transform the corner of Glover Road and Mavis Avenue. Currently awaiting approval is a new retail and office building on 96th Avenue where Tracycakes is currently located, and a new retail and residential building at the corner of Mavis Avenue and Church Street. Also pending is an application for a 52-unit townhouse development on McBride Street to replace the Lombardy RV Park, a development that will also serve to further upgrade Fort Langley's commercial area.
But, most importantly, the past year finally saw the return of the local grocery store, Lee's Market, at the corner of Mavis Avenue and Church Street. When the IGA burnt down in January 2011, the commercial area lost its anchor. After a long two years, it is no less than fantastic to have the Lee family and the local grocery back in Fort Langley, bigger and better than ever. As I have heard confirmed by many, the obvious quality of the new store speaks for itself. I know that we all congratulate them on a (hard) job well done.
This year's Cranberry Festival, on October 6, was our best ever. With perfect weather and solid event planning by our former Executive Director, Shirley Stewart, attendance was estimated at 65,000 people. This year's festival was a great balance of family activities, food, and unique vendors. And, of course, cranberries, generously donated by Ocean Spray again this year.
The Cranberry Festival continues to lose money for the BIA, but this year finally saw the BIA successfully appeal to Township Council and staff to update the definition of a Major Festival to include an attendance metric. The Cranberry Festival did not previously qualify because it is not a two day event, a requirement in 2012. $5,000 was awarded by Council Contingency this year as a transitionary step, for which the BIA was extremely grateful. Starting in 2013, we expect to permanently qualify for the Major Festivals grant.
After a failed attempt in 2000, 2012 saw the BIA successfully coordinate a Local Area Service (LAS) petition of commercial property owners, and finally achieve a long-time objective to convert the overhead wiring along Glover Road and Mavis Avenue to underground wiring.
The overhead wiring in the BIA's Business Improvement Area is some of the worst in Greater Vancouver. With wiring on both sides of the street and multiple transmission types, the conversion will transform the sidewalks and general feel of Fort Langley's town centre. The exact timing of the construction work is not yet confirmed, but it is expected to start sometime in 2013 or 2014.
For the long-term, utilities conversion is a necessary and significant milestone that will justify significant investments in a refreshed streetscape in subsequent years. The next few years will be the ideal time to get this conversion behind us, as part of an ongoing general renewal because of the multiple commercial developments currently pending, and others anticipated for the future. And so, this year the BIA started the process of updating the BIA's (currently obsolete) Streetscape Plan from 2001 (now a key work item proposed for 2013), and emphasized achieving some key repairs in the interim, such as repairs to Christmas lights and lamp standards, which were completed by the Township of Langley late in 2012.
Given its limited resources, the BIA continues to struggle with effective marketing. To address that, 2012 saw the BIA establish a renewed focus on a high-quality website as our primary marketing vehicle. The BIA is extremely lucky to own fortlangley.com for the promotion of the village, an asset many BIA's and business associations do not have.
We successfully transitioned the website to a free, volunteer-based, custom-developed website that can now form the centrepiece of the BIA's marketing efforts going forward. The website will continue to expand, but with this new foundation now in place, the BIA can focus on developing a realistic, coordinated marketing plan that is expected to take shape and get underway in 2013.
The website is also an excellent mechanism to increase transparency, and enable merchants to follow the operations of the BIA, a key goal of mine, generally. Starting in 2012, all meeting agendas and minutes have been available online, and going forward, all budgets, financial statements, annual reports and operations plans will be online, in HTML format. For interested members, it is now very easy to follow the BIA.
I want to thank Shirley Stewart, our former Executive Director who had been with the BIA since 2010 but resigned this past year, for her excellent service. On a daily basis she was an immense asset to the BIA, and the Board in particular. She always helped our merchants and community members alike in any way that she could. She also did an absolutely amazing job on the Cranberry Festival this year too, her 3rd as the BIA's Executive Director. We all wish her all the best for the future. She will be missed.
It was my pleasure to serve on the Board this year, with a great group of dynamic, smart people truly dedicated to seeing Fort Langley evolve over the long-term. I sincerely hope that every Board member runs again this year. As a group we accomplished many tangible things this year, but we also started to create a more solid foundation to enable the BIA to accomplish more with its limited resources. It is work I hope to continue, with many ideas and objectives for 2013. The BIA has tremendous potential, potential I want to help realize.
As a group, we all have to work together to create reasons for people to choose to spend their time in Fort Langley. If we can do that, and make people of aware of those reasons, good things will follow. While taking care of the day-to-day items, such as visitor maps, I hope to reinforce this simple focus. These are truly exciting times in Fort Langley, with many changes and accomplishments this year, but there is always more that can be done.
Fort Langley Business Improvement Assocation