You probably have a favourite neighbourhood
for shopping or dining, right? Maybe it’s the eclectic mix of dining and browsing downtown Dundas or the thrill of the antique hunt on Ottawa Street. Perhaps you like to take in a good movie followed by a nice slice of cake in Westdale.
What does each of these areas have in common? The businesses and property owners in each of these hotspots are part of organized commercial districts called a Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). These BIAs are run by a board of members and often employ an executive director responsible for the operation of the organization. Funded through levies on the member businesses, BIAs work to promote, maintain, and advocate for their geographic business area.
WHAT IS A BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA?
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs, through their Business Improvement Area Hand-book, a BIA is a designated area in a municipality of business people and property owners that seek to promote and improve their location.
DID YOU KNOW? There is at least one informal community group in Hamilton (Sherman Hub) and one in Burlington (Plains Road Village Vision Group). These informal groups both serve a similar purpose to BIAs, except they bring residents into the conversation as well as merchants and business owners.
- Promote the business district to the greater city
- Advertise properties for lease and sale
- Liase with City services and agencies like the Police service and bylaw enforcement
- Advocate on behalf of the member businesses with regard to local political issues
- Coordinate beautification efforts for their district. This may include everything from power washing sidewalks to hanging banners on light poles
- Organize community events that provide opportunities for local vendors and entertainment to meet the public of the community.
- Help businesses to advertise their businesses through the advertising purchases and BIA marketing efforts
- Members of Hamilton BIAs are eligible for the city’s BIA Commercial Property Improvement Grant Program.
- In some cases, BIAs lead unique initiatives for the community. For example, the now defunct Jamesville Business Community (James St. North’s BIA) buried a time capsule beneath a marker on the northeast corner of Wilson and James. It’s to be opened on Tues day, November 16, 2038 by the city’s Mayor, Alderman and “Busi ness Leaders of James Street North.
- Property or business owners must pay a special levy in order to be a part of the BIA, which is used to operate the BIA and, in some cases, pay for staffing costs. These funds also go toward the operation of the street itself.
- The issue of “freedom of association” has been raised by opponents of BIAs. Because BIA members must pay the levy and must be a member if they operate in the designated area, can be differing ideas of how the BIA should be run.
- BIAs can be rejected by area businesses. A notable example was the demise of the Jamesville BIA on James Street North in 1991 when 67 merchants voted to close it down. Nothing has been in place in this neighbourhood since then and certain members of the community are still loudly opposed to the idea. In 2012, an effort by the Downtown Hamilton BIA to move further north along James St. was quashed by local business owners, led by Cynthia Hill, president of the James Street North Merchants and Business Association, which does not have any official designation.
After 14 years as the Executive Director of the Downtown Hamilton BIA, Kathy Drewitt is retiring on September 30th. Kathy championed downtown Hamilton in the years before the recent revitalization took off. Her tireless energy has been critical in that renewal process, and will be missed! All the best, Kathy!