What is a BIA?

A Business Improvement Area is a tool that can help business people to join together to build a stronger business area.  Independant business people need tools to build strong and more competitive downtowns and special business districts.  BIA legislation is one of these very important tools.

While a BIA organization has much in common with other kinds of business associations, a number of features make it unique.  It covers a specific geographic area and can only be established through a by-law passed by the municipal council at the request of the local business community.

A BIA's primary role is to improve the area.  Improvements are achieved through beautification and coordination of promotional efforts in the designated area.

Once a BIA is established, every business and property owner within its geographic limits contributes to the organization's budget and is automatically a member.  The organization is financed by a special levy on property in that area, above and beyond the normal municipal taxes.  The levy is collected by the municipality, but administered by the BIA Board of Management as it implements its program of activities for that year.  The overall administration of the BIA - and the allocation of funds - is directed by the Board of Management.  Our BIA has an election for management members (volunteers) from which the results are forwarded to council for approval.

Under the direction of the Board of Management, the program of the BIA usually involves improvements to the physical environment and appearance of the business area, and economic redevelopment programs such as area-wide promotions and advertising campaigns.

The advantages of this form of organization are clear:  it provides a structure that allows separate and sometimes competing businesses to cooperate for their mutual benefits, and it establishes a mechanism for long-term and assured funding for the organization.  The quality of the Board often determines how successful the BIA will be.  Board members have to be willing to carry a lot of responsibility, but they also have to be able to get support from the members for the BIA's projects.

This form of organization allows a large number of independent businesses to adopt the same centralized management techniques, shared projects, unified promotions and advertising methods that have made the shopping centres, big box stores and malls - their main competitors - so successful.

In effect, the BIA is a self-help organization supported by the municipality, but the most important element by far is the local business community.  Widespread and continuing support from a very large proportion of the local businesses and property owners is essential to the success of a Business Improvement Area.