The improvements to the Improvement Area help to promote the districts and their members, bring customers, stimulate the economy, and support the community. Promotional activities may include special events and ongoing advertising programs which aim to keep the BIA area foremost in the public’s mind as an attractive, pleasant place to shop, to be entertained, to work and to live.
For many BIAs the social wellbeing of the community is very important. Many BIAs have programs that deal specifically with homelessness, graffiti, crime prevention, safety, transportation, accessibility, density, green spaces and other issues. In addition, BIAs have expanded their roles to include business recruitment to their list of goals.
BIAs help to create stronger communities by supporting member participation through the Board of Directors and the committees of the BIA. The formal BIA designation allows for a planned program to be developed with an annual budget contributed to by all its members. The cumulative effect of BIA activities attract customers and new business to the Improvement Area. BIAs respond to and reflect the needs of individual areas. They can act as merchant associations, initiators of revitalization projects, coordinators of civic planning processes, a key spoke in economic development teams, and a positive voice when addressing street issues.
The first Business Improvement Area was initiated in Ontario in 1969, when a group of business people in Toronto’s Bloor West Village area approached the City of Toronto seeking the legal power to arrest a severe downward trend in the economic climate and physical appearance of their commercial district.
As a result of consultation with City officials and the Ontario Government, the Province passed enabling legislation under the Municipal Act giving municipalities the power to designate "business improvement areas".
Since then, the model provided by the Bloor West Village has been followed by more than 230 business areas in communities across Ontario, and hundreds more across Canada and the United States.
BIAs in British Columbia
In the initial years, there were few BIAs established. However, as business communities across the province became aware of the potential power of the BIA model, the number of BIAs dramatically increased.
Today, fifty-eight BIAs are operating in British Columbia, with more on the way. The existing BIA areas represent over 60,000 businesses with over $16.5 billion in land value. Their combined budgets exceed 10 million dollars.
BIAs range in size, budget and focus depending on the needs of the community. BIAs are for every community – from downtowns to entire towns, and from industrial parks to neighbourhood shopping areas.
Benefits of a BIA
The benefits of a BIA are as individual and diverse as the communities themselves. From spectacular banner and seasonal programs to mystery shopper programs and retail energizer meetings, many downtown and commercial area programs are initiated and employed by BIAs to bring life and vitality to these communities through their BIAs.
Individual BIAs determine organizational priorities and projects. For example, the BIA funds may be used for the implementation of a strategic plan for marketing and promoting the area to support economic growth. The funds can also be used to improve the physical environment, bring public art, to start a public awareness campaign, or to initiate any number of other projects that are designated as priorities for the improvement area. The options and possibilities are infinite. Efforts such as these improve public awareness, establish a positive image for the area, increase customer traffic, and attract new businesses.
The BIA legislation provides for a special charge to be levied on each commercial and/or industrial property within the designated area. There are several ways your Council can assess property and designate the contribution. The most commonly used methods are ASSESSMENT (mil rate percentage) or FRONTAGE (fixed sum per linear front footage).
For example, in ASSESSMENT, each property owner’s share of the annual BIA budget is proportionate to his or her PROPERTY’S share of the total taxable commercial value of all the properties within the BIA’s boundaries. In other words, if an owner owns 1% of the total taxable assessed PROPERTY value, the share will be 1% of the budget. Most landlords pass all or part of this cost to their business tenant(s) pursuant to lease agreements.
For details on the above, consult BIABC, the BIABC Handbook, your City Clerk, or BIA liaison.