HISTORY OF BIA

What is a BIA? You may have heard of the Downtown Huntsville BIA. But, what is that? Well the BIA portion of the Downtown Huntsville BIA stands for Business Improvement Area, but that still won’t tell you much. So, let’s travel back in time about 40 years old? 

The situation was grim for business on a west Toronto main street. Business was on a decline. Stores were closing. Vacancy levels were rising quickly. Downtown streets were becoming run down. The situation was dire and the business people in the community started to fight back. It took a number of years, but in 1970 a group of business people achieved success and created an association backed with municipal and provincial legislation to compel all businesses in their downtown community to contribute funds to the betterment of their dwindling downtown. Spending their own money, the businesses began street improvements and promoting the area. It paid off. A popular shopping destination was born and remains strong today. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bloor West Village, which is celebrating their 40th anniversary as a BIA this year. 

Bloor West Village was the first BIA. The concept caught on and now there are 64 BIAs in Toronto, more than 230 across Ontario (including our own Downtown Huntsville BIA), and 300 across Canada. BIAs can be found internationally in the US, Great Britain, Australia, and elsewhere. These BIAs vary greatly in the size of their membership, business make up, geographical size, etc. They all, however, share a desire to improve their business districts and enhance their community at large. 

The Downtown Huntsville BIA, like other Ontario BIAs, is municipally legislated. Our main source of funding is an additional property tax levy paid by commercial property owners (falling within our designated geographic area). Because the BIA levy money is used directly towards improvements in the business community that pays for it, you might even call it a self-help program designed to stimulate business growth. In the Downtown Huntsville BIA our funds are directed towards streetscape improvements, beautification efforts (such as Christmas lighting, flower planting), downtown marketing and promotions, community events, and our Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery project, and more. 

Even though times have changed since 1970, the need for BIAs is just a strong as it was when Bloor West Village was formed. Bloor West Village was facing a drop in customers when the subway system replaced the street trolleys. Their situation was compounded with a proliferation of shopping malls blossoming on the outskirts of the city, where customers were drawn to climate controlled shopping and free parking. This is not so different from today’s challenges of big box shopping developments and the strong movement away from shopping locally to internet shopping. 

But as long as a strong downtown remains the heart of the community and supported by the efforts of people who live, work, and play there, the Downtown Huntsville BIA will continue to work hard to support our close to 200 property owner, business and service provider members. 

Supporting documentation for this article was taken from printed material of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas.