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“Huge” changes coming to Downtown New West business organization

The Record chats with Kendra Johnston, Karima Jivraj and Alice Cavanagh about the future of the BIA – and downtown New West
Alice Cavanagh, Kendra Johnston and Karima Jivraj are the women at the helm of the Downtown New West BIA.

Big changes are coming to the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association in 2023.

After serving as the BIA’s executive director since November 2011, Kendra Johnston’s final day with the BIA is on Jan. 27. Soon after, Karima Jivraj, who has served as the BIA board president for several years, will leave her post at the annual general meeting in March.

Johnston and Jivraj will soon leave their BIA roles behind, but they won’t be going far – Jivraj owns Bosley’s by Pet Valu in Columbia Square and Johnston is a Quayside resident. They’ve been working with Alice Cavanagh, the board’s current vice-president, to ensure a smooth transition.

Cavanagh, who manages River Market and Columbia Square Plaza through her work at Warrington PCI Management, has been encouraged to stand for nomination as board president. Although she wasn’t expecting Johnston and Jivraj to leave around the same time, she thinks there are some exciting times ahead for the BIA.

“The homework has been done and the research has been done, and we're ready for that change,” she said. “So, even happening simultaneously, it's not going to be disruptive because we've done the prep work to make it good. And I think that there's going to be some great stuff to come ahead.”

Cavanagh said the board has been doing some “fantastic” advocacy for the last couple of years, and that work is starting to come to fruition with the City of New Westminster’s proposed investments in the downtown.

“That new investment that's happening from city hall in downtown isn't so much of a new investment as it is the next step in the process that we've been advocating for a while. And we've been after an additional public washroom in the downtown core for a number of years now, and that's finally happening,” she said. “So from my point of view, moving forward is just carrying on the work we're doing now and carrying it forward.”

Cavanagh said a new executive director will also bring a new perspective and new ideas to the BIA, which is exciting.

“The downtown has had a tough couple of years, but I think this is a change that can help spark a positivity,” she said.

The Downtown New West BIA board has hired Harbour West Consulting to help with its search for a new executive director. 

Saying goodbye

Like a lot of people, Johnston said she began reassessing her values and her life during the pandemic, and realized that she was craving change – even though her position at the BIA is her dream job. She said she was open with Jivraj and Cavanagh about her desire to do something different.

“And then I realized that I can't wait for my next dream job to come along; I need to sort of untangle myself, retrain my brain to stop thinking about the BIA and all the great work that we're doing,” she said. “And I need to take some time to figure out what I want to do next. Luckily, these guys have been super supportive with that process.”

Johnston is proud of what she’s been able to accomplish during her 11 years with the BIA. Highlights include working with BIA members through the years and launching events like the food truck festival and Fridays on Front.

“It's super fantastic for Kendra; she needs a different challenge,” Jivraj said. “But it's also exciting for the BIA because it brings in a fresh, different perspective to build on all the work that is already being done. Kendra has laid down a super awesome foundation, and so now the next person just needs to come in and take that foundation and go the next 10 steps that takes it to the next level. … People don't like change, but change can also be like super awesome.  So that's the exciting part of it.”

Jivraj said Cavanagh has been “shadowing” her over the last couple of years to learn what she does and doesn’t do as board president; she’s hopeful Cavanagh will move into the president’s role in March.

“I know she's going to do an amazing job,” she said. “So yeah, so it's a whole new fresh perspective, right? So, huge changes.”

Along with changes at the helm of the BIA, Jivraj anticipates there will be some positive changes coming to the downtown.

“The downtown is going to become this dynamic, engaging neighbourhood again,” she said. “I have no doubt about it.”

Jivraj believes the BIA’s behind-the-scenes advocacy to city hall will help result in the creation of a new public washroom, enhanced cleaning and garbage collection and increased police patrols in the neighbourhood.

Improvements coming

At its Dec. 12 meeting, city council received a staff report about a downtown livability strategy, which outlines a $4.4-milion plan to address a variety of issues in the downtown, including general cleanliness and enhanced access to 24/7 public toilets, enhanced homeless outreach and added emergency shelter capacity and business support and engagement. Council directed staff to seek provincial and federal funding to address the actions in the strategy and to submit the actions in the strategy as part of the budget deliberations.

“I think it's a really positive look-forward piece, and it gives me hope that we can continue that momentum to start really getting the ball rolling down here again,” Cavanagh said of the city’s plan. “When we put our fabulous BIA events on top of that and we continue to build on that, downtown is going to be amazing.”

Johnston also anticipates great things will happen in the downtown.

“A lot of people are reassessing their lives and deciding to start businesses, and so we're seeing an increase in interest in some of the empty spaces in the downtown,” she said. “I think over the next two to three years, we're going to see a lot of new faces and a lot of new businesses opening up down here, which is very exciting.”

Johnston said the BIA membership will elect board member at its AGM, and the new board will then vote amongst themselves for positions on the executive at their next meeting. She believes Cavanagh will make a “phenomenal” president.

“I am just excited to see the future of the organization and the future of our community here,” she said. “I see so much opportunity and I just have a lot of confidence about what the BIA will be doing over the next few years with Alice's leadership and with the new person in the role of the ED.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus

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