Business Improvement Areas have a great track record.
That’s according to Kay Matthews, the executive director of the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association, who spoke to Elmira BIA members on Monday.
Matthews, who had spent the afternoon touring Elmira’s downtown and meeting with the BIA board members, gave an hour-long presentation in council chambers on the potential BIAs have to restore and revitalize downtowns.
She had been invited to come to Elmira at the request of economic development officer Laurel Davies Snyder, as well as the BIA board, which comprises Krista McBay, Jennifer Patterson, Derek Patterson, mayor Todd Cowan and Freda Walker.
Matthews has a great deal of experience working with BIAs, having worked extensively with the Streetsville BIA in Mississauga, as well as the Georgetown BIA.
Matthews told her audience of a dozen BIA members that the idea for these management areas came from Ontario, when the Bloor West Village in Toronto looked for a mechanism to promote themselves.
The city of Toronto worked with the retailers, and, in 1970, the first BIA was born.
Now, the model has been adopted by jurisdictions throughout the world, said Matthews.
“The record has shown, since they started in 1970, that we all benefit from BIAs,” said Matthews.
Business Improvement Areas are formed when business owners petition the municipal government. After consulting with the community, an area is chosen for the BIA. All property owners within the boundary of the BIA are then subject to an annual levy, which is used by the BIA to promote the area, as well as to take on beautification projects.
Matthews told members that the BIA’s annual levy is only a “starting point,” and that the BIA can use the levy to leverage additional money through grants and sponsorships.
“(Everything) shouldn’t be on the backs of the businesses,” said Matthews. “The BIA levy is just the beginning, it’s not the be-all of your budget.”
Matthews also emphasized the importance of strategic planning, so that BIAs can determine their long-range plans, and ensure that all projects lead towards those goals.
Jennifer Patterson, who is serving as the new chairman of the BIA, said that she hopes to incorporate many of Matthew’s ideas, including strategic planning, as the new board moves forward.
“We feel like we’ve put together a budget that is kind of based on history; we want to look at what needs to be done and how we should spend the money.”
Patterson said that if the board decides to make any changes to this year’s budget, they would hold a public meeting, with all of the members invited.
She also said that she would welcome hearing from members on what they deem to be the top priorities.
“The more input and feedback we can get, the better,” said Patterson.
To contact Patterson, send an email to email@example.com. The next board meeting is set for Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. Board meetings are open to all BIA members.