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At the helm with the city's downtown

Kendra Johnston leads BIA with her passion for New West

The Record recently caught up with Kendra Johnston, who has been running the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association since late November, for a question and-answer session. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Question: Please introduce yourself.

Answer: My name is Kendra Johnston, and I am the manager of the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association.

Q: What is your professional and educational background?

A: Some people will know that I used to work here from 2000 to 2003 as executive assistant to then-executive Jack Bass. From there I went on to work at the Royal City Star Riverboat Casino in the capacity of marketing and HR coordinator. . A lot of people from the city will know me from planning parties on the boat and promotions.

I was at the Starlight Casino for the first year of operation. I worked for a non-profit in Vancouver in a communications role and in the construction industry in communications and HR.

I went to BCIT and got a diploma in marketing and communications.

Q: What drew you to this position?

A: I'm passionate about New West and passionate about downtown, specifically. Having lived here for 12 years, having worked with the BIA previously, having volunteered in the community, it's become my home. I chose this because it has a community feel to it. . I'm proud to represent downtown New West.

Q: What is the role of a business improvement association?

A: We represent the interests of about 350 downtown businesses and 150 property owners. We promote our area as a shopping district, a destination, a place to come and enjoy yourself for entertainment and dining. We are trying to brand and market downtown.

Q: What does that involve?

A: The most visible things we do are the Multicultural Festival in May - this year will be our 10th annual on May 19 - and our Show and Shine in July. It will be our 13th annual on July 8. . We do a lot of promotions and advertising for our community as a whole. We also look out for our members' interests in terms of any concerns or issues they raise, the big one recently being parking.

Q: What is your role within this BIA?

A: My role is to execute the vision of the board of directors administratively. The board of directors will decide what our priorities and focus should be. My role is to ensure that those things happen.

They will decide that we need to improve communications with our partners, our members and the public, and I will come up with a communications plan and oversee execution of that plan.

Q: What are your impressions of your members and of the business community downtown?

A: There's been a huge change in downtown New West. I've lived here for 12 years, so I've seen the changes incrementally over the time I've lived here, however, coming back to this role and comparing it to 10 years ago, the changes to the esthetic and the energy and people's enthusiasm is really impressive.

Q: What are some of the challenges you foresee in the job?

A: There's always challenges that come with change, and with the changing face of downtown, we need to change people's perception if they haven't been down here in a while. We need to somehow get the message across that it is different. There are more options. There's more excitement. That's a big challenge.

Q: What specific things do you hope to accomplish in this role?

A: I spent a lot of time in the last six weeks talking to our members, face to face.

One of the things that was unanimous across the board was that we need to improve communications with members, the public and our partners, including the city, the chamber of commerce and Hyack Festival Association. That will be a primary focus for the next year. I would like the BIA to be a well known entity and ambassador for our member businesses.

Q: What is one thing you wish everyone knew about the BIA but probably doesn't?

A: There's a really hard-working board of directors behind the scenes that volunteer countless hours of their own time. I think people would be shocked to learn how many hours some of those people put in for the good of this business community.

Q: What things can we expect to see in 2012 from the BIA?

A: We've got our annual general meeting coming up on Feb. 7, so there should be some new faces on the board after that meeting.

We will likely be holding a strategic planning session and mapping out what the next five years for the BIA looks like.

With all the changes happening downtown, it's the ideal time to relook at our focus.