Over the years, we’ve discovered that although the Uxbridge Business Improvement Area (BIA) has a fairly high profile in the community, many citizens would be hard-pressed to explain what it does, how it’s structured, managed or funded. In particular, Cosmos readers might get it confused with the Chamber of Commerce. So, consistent with many of our recent articles on municipal governance, we offer this handy guide to your local BIA.
What is a BIA? Although there are now thousands of municipalities and neighbourhoods around the world with BIAs, the concept is actually just a few decades old, and originated right here in Ontario! In 1970, responding to a request by a Toronto business association, the Ontario government passed enabling legislation to create the world’s first Business Improvement Area in Bloor West Village. Previously relying on voluntary contributions for its projects, the newly-created Bloor West Village BIA could now rely on a steady stream of revenue from a new city levy, made possible under the legislation, for long-term planning to improve the area. Every business within its boundaries contributed to the levy.
Today, there are more than 270 BIAs in Ontario, varying in size from fewer than 60 business and property owners to more than 2,000. The BIA concept is now global, adopted by more than 500 communities across Canada, 2,000 throughout the United States, and thousands more around the world including Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
A Business Improvement Area allows local business people and commercial property owners and tenants to join together and, with the support of the municipality, organize, finance, and carry out physical improvements and promote economic development in their district.
Traditionally, a BIA is a body established by a municipality using the specific business improvement area provisions in the Municipal Act, 2001. It is governed by a board of management. In Uxbridge, the board is appointed by Township council at the beginning of each term, and currently consists of six business representatives and the councillors representing Wards 3, 4 and 5, who have constituents included in the BIA. The interim chair is Joanne Richter, owner of the Second Wedge Brewing Co. The Uxbridge BIA has one staff person, a part-time coordinator. Most of its activities are undertaken by contractors. Monthly board meetings are open to the public. Questions can be directed to the BIA email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and you can find more info about meetings, events etc. at the website, www.uxbridge.ca/bia
BIA membership and funding Once a BIA is approved by municipal council, businesses within its boundaries become members and pay the BIA levy along with their property taxes. This reflects the principle that all who benefit should be required to bear their fair share of the cost of the program. In addition, the arrangement provides a secure source of funding for BIA activities.
In Uxbridge, the annual levy for the last several years has been set at $106,450. Commercial and service businesses within the Uxbridge BIA are assessed their share of the levy proportional to the square footage of their business. An individual business’s share will vary yearly depending on the number and size of the rest of the membership. Because the levy is imposed only on businesses within the BIA, the average Uxbridge taxpayer does not contribute to the BIA budget; the municipality’s only contribution is in providing office space to the coordinator.
Functions of the BIA The general functions of a traditional BIA are to oversee the improvement, beautification and maintenance of municipally-owned land, buildings and structures in the area beyond that provided at the expense of the municipality generally, and to promote the area as a business or shopping area.
Examples of BIA activities
Beautification – BIAs often provide enhancements in a business area to create a more pleasant atmosphere for local businesses and neighbouring residential areas. The most common way is streetscape improvement through the addition of customer-friendly lighting, signage, street furniture, planters, banners and sidewalk treatments as well as seasonal decorations. Revitalization and maintenance – BIAs can help to revitalize, improve and maintain physical infrastructure as well as help make an area cleaner and safer. Approaches have ranged from building façade restoration to graffiti removal and enhanced street cleaning and garbage receptacles. Marketing and promotion – To retain and expand its customer base, a BIA may encourage both local residents and others to shop and use services within the local commercial district through marketing and promotional activities. Business recruitment – BIAs often organize and work with community partners to hold special events to promote and showcase their businesses.
How does the BIA differ from the Chamber of Commerce? There are two principal differences. The Chamber of Commerce is independent of the municipality, and in fact will often advocate to council on behalf of its membership. And while membership in the BIA is compulsory within its boundaries, membership in the Chamber is voluntary.
Chambers of Commerce will also often have a stronger role in professional development.
By Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 11, 2023 at 10:29