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Pilot program approved to help heritage businesses, social enterprises in Downtown Eastside and Chinatown

"Residents value businesses that contribute to the area’s unique identity and history"
Vancouver's Chinatown. Glacier file photo

Vancouver city council has approved a $500,000 pilot program to help a variety of businesses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.

Called the Downtown Eastside Special Enterprise Pilot Program, the goal is to deal with commercial vacancies in those two areas of the city as there's plenty of underutilized space. The city is also aiming for the "retention of heritage and community-serving businesses, non-profits and social enterprises," according to a report on the program.

"Chinatown, along with other neighbourhoods, is struggling with the dramatic loss of businesses of cultural and historical importance that contribute to neighbourhood identity," notes the report from staff, adding the vacancy rate in the area of above 17 per cent, while six other comparable shopping areas were between four and 12 per cent.

'Residents value businesses that contribute to the area’s unique identity and history'

"[C]onsultants found that residents value businesses that contribute to the area’s unique identity and history. They reported that they value those that contribute to the aesthetic of the neighbourhood, contribute to Chinese Canadian culture, provide service in Chinese language(s), and are small, family-owned or multi-generational businesses," notes staff in the report.

Meanwhile in the DTES in 2019 the city recorded 55 different organizations, from artist collectives to small-scale food processors, looking for affordable space. Businesses there face a variety of challenges well known to the area and exacerbated by the pandemic.

An expected timeline shows the program established this year and next year before expanding in between 2022 and 2024.

"The Special Enterprise Program pilot is a proposed strategic initiative to address the community concerns related to commercial vacancies, affordability, space upgrade needs, capacity building, and retention of heritage and community-serving, non-profits and social enterprises in the DTES and Chinatown," states the report.

Funds will be split three ways

The money from the newly approved program will be split three ways as social enterprise grants. The Strathcona Business Improvement Association use $150,000 to continue work in Chinese Benevolent Society buildings, including $100,000 for improvements at the Chinese Nationalist League Association building. 

Another $150,000 will go toward not-for-profits which will work to build capacity with businesses, non-profits and social enterprises.

The final $200,000 will go to support potential tenants in underutilized spaces commercial spaces.

Supports would range from helping tools and furnishing and other improvements to commercial space to marketing and promotion.

The plan passed unanimously during yesterday's (Jan. 19) council meeting. The idea came out of the 2017 Legacy Business Study. It'll be funded through the Multi-Year Capital Project Budget of the 2021 DTES Capital Grant Program.