Proposal to replace Vanier Park lawn with gravel draws fire

Bard on the Beach’s (BOTB) proposal to remove part of Vanier Park’s lawn and replace it with a hard surface such as pavement or gravel has prompted critics to question how much of an impact commercial enterprises should be allowed to exact on public parks.

“BOTB is very popular and has made a wonderful contribution to Vancouver culture, tourism and the economy but we have an issue about the deeper implications of restricting public parkland for special user groups,” CityHallWatch director Randy Helten told Business in Vancouver September 16.

“What would happen if BOTB stops operating? Will there be corporate rentals at the site?”

BOTB, as a registered charity, aims to break even on its $5.5 million annual budget. It pays the Vancouver Park Board $10,000 annually for an event permit to operate the Shakespeare festival, which runs between May and mid-September. Installing and dismantling the site costs about $650,000 each year.

The festival is on track to attract nearly 100,000 people during this year’s season, which ends September 20. Ticket, concession and merchandise sales generate about $4.2 million. The rest of the budget is largely generated from corporate sponsorships and contributions from benefactors such as the Vancouver International Wine Festival, which last year donated $170,000.

“Less than 2% of our budget comes from government sources such as the city, the B.C. Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts,” BOTB managing director Claire Sakaki told BIV.

BOTB held an open house September 14 to outline potential Vanier Park changes and to seek public input. It has no plans to hold more open houses although BOTB executives are meeting with what Sakaki called “stakeholders and interested parties.”

She explained that each fall, when her Shakespeare festival stops operating, it packs up its tents and leaves part of Vanier Park a muddy mess.

“We’ve spent an incredible amount of money adding topsoil and reseeding the area and doing various things to try to get the area back to a grassy surface,” she said. “But, because it’s after the growing season, it’s actually been impossible to bring it back.”

BOTB has worked with landscape architects to determine options for a all-season surface several thousand square feet in size. They include different shaped footprints and different materials that would both be harder surfaces and have drainage. Most of the park would remain grass under BOTB’s proposal.

Sakaki said that in addition to creating the year-round surface, BOTB also wants to create some tree-lined pathways at the festival site next to the Vancouver Archives building.

Here is BOTB’s full proposal. 

BOTB is also urging people to fill out a survey  by September 30.

BOTB plans to forward to the park board the surveys and suggestions gleaned from informal consultation and meetings by the end of October.

That would give the current park board the opportunity to potentially vote on a change before the November 15. Only two of the seven current park commissioners – Vision Vancouver’s Trevor Loke and the NPA’s John Coupar – are seeking reelection to the board.

“It’s a concern if they make a major decision just before the election,” Helten said.