What is a BIA?
A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of businesses and commercial property owners within a specified commercial area who join together to promote the economic development of the district through various marketing, beautification, safety and advocacy initiatives. With the support of the municipality, BIAs are enacted through special legislation and, once formed, are governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, comprised of area business tenants and commercial property owners, and funded through a member-based property tax levy.
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 BIA movement dates back to 1970 in Ontario with the establishment of Bloor West Village BIA in response to increasing competition from suburban shopping malls. Today, there are more than 500 BIAs across Canada and the BIA concept has become an international phenomenon with thousands of BIAs throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Japan.
Today, over 60 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. BIAs are active in their communities promoting business, tourism, safety and physical revitalization. BIAs transcend individual or group efforts of individual shops, restaurants and offices by promoting their areas geographically as business and/or shopping districts. BIAs advocate on behalf of their membership as a unified voice.
Areas of focus
- Community development
- Economic development
- Marketing and promotions
- Public space
- Safety and crime prevention
- Social issues
- Street beautification and enhancements
BIAs seek to improve business conditions by introducing social initiatives and community work programs dealing with underlying issues such as homelessness and street youth, graffiti and panhandling. Projects related to crime reduction, safety and traffic improvements, sustainability and green space activation are other common areas of BIA activity.
Individual BIAs determine organizational priorities and projects. BIA funds may be used for implementation of a strategic plan for marketing and promoting the area to support economic growth. Funds can be used to improve the physical environment, bring in 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 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.
BIAs are mandated to promote and improve commercial areas for the benefit of their business and property-owner members but, in the process, BIAs provide significant benefits to the greater community, community policing centres, neighbourhood houses, community centres, municipalities, local police departments and many area services.
For more information, please contact:
Business Improvement Areas of BC