What is a BIA?

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined area who work in partnership with the Municipality to create thriving and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses. By working collectively as a BIA, local businesses have the resource capacity (funds and people) to actively enhance the quality of life in their local neighbourhood and the Municipality as a whole.

Ontario BIAs fall under provincial legislation and are regulated under the Municipal Act, therefore they are a “Corporation of the Municipality”.  BIAs are NOT “not-for-profit” corporations under the Ontario Corporations Act and should not be confused with one.  A BIA has unique and specific connections with the municipality as a private-public partnership, one that supports community and economic development with funds raised solely for that work outside of the general taxpayers.

A local municipality may designate an area as an improvement area and may establish a board of management, 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.

 

Local Board status

 A board of management is a local board of the municipality for all purposes.  All BIA board of management, and their staff, must follow the policies established by the municipality for Local Boards.

 

How is a BIA funded?

The municipality collects a levy from commercial property owners (usually derived from tenants), and provides it to the BIA. The cost is nominal in relation to the many benefits businesses can receive, because businesses collectively contribute to an organization that represents the entire business area and is accountable to each business. Businesses provide input to shape the budget, and vote on the budget annually at the AGM and other membership meetings held.

Building on the budget, a BIA can do more for the business area through grants, sponsorships and partnerships. To calculate the cost for a commercial property in the BIA, use the following formula: property assessment value X BIA rate = BIA levy. The BIA rate is calculated by dividing the BIA budget by the total assessed property value in the BIA boundary.

 

Benefits of a BIA

BIAs help form a strong and distinct image for a municipality’s neighbourhood as its destination to eat, shop, work, and play. This effectively markets the area as a local destination, competing against e-commerce giants and malls, and tourism destinations.  The BIA is a ‘collective good’ model.

BIAs can be catalysts for civic improvement and significant contributors to the municipality’s economy and the quality of life of our neighbourhoods. In order to help local commercial areas create thriving, competitive and safe business areas, the municipality may offer programs to BIAs.

BIAs improve their local economies through activities such as:

PLACEMAKING – Public Realm Investment
Street and sidewalk maintenance and capital improvements
– Graffiti and poster removal services respecting building facades visible from the street

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT 
– Business Retention & Expansion
– Studies and Economic Reporting

MARKETING – Area Marketers
Promotion of the BIA as a business, employment, tourist or shopping area (business directories, festivals, advertising)

PROMOTIONS, EVENTS & ACTIVATIONS – Event Facilitators
Hosting neighbourhood festivals and events
– Developing Activations that create a ‘sense of place’ and vibrant

LEADERSHIP – Policy & Partner Influencers
Safety, security and crime prevention initiatives
– Good Governance
– Building Partnerships
– Strategic plans for business recruitment, market studies and capital improvements
– Advocacy on behalf of their membership as a unified voice

 

Starting a BIA

The decision to start a BIA can only be made by people who own or lease commercial and/or industrial property in the commercial area, their commercial tenants and the local municipality.  The BIA is formed once the municipality creates the enabling By-Law.

 

Join OBIAA Members – Gain access to all the benefits of membership.

OBIAA is here to help you from the very beginning of the creation of your new BIA. We assist with stakeholder consultation and help you focus on building strong foundations for business areas. Click here to access the Municipal Act. The part that directly references BIAs is 204 to 216 but note that any references to governance around local boards also applies.

OBIAA Member Benefits:

Members Needs Assistance Info

OBIAA can work with your Municipality to provide support and guidance. We have many best practices and resources to assist.

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Resource Library


OBIAA can provide speakers for your meeting, whether you are considering a BIA, have just started up a BIA or are interested in what other BIAs are doing around the province.

OBIAA Conference Benefits


As part of helping to build stronger BIAs, we offer training in a wide range of topics, directly through OBIAA or with our partners. These include Governance and Accessibility.
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Step-By-Step Guide To Starting A BIA

Starting a BIA begins with communication and an expressed need. OBIAA can help.

BIAs successfully help communities to be vital in the province of Ontario since 1970. The Municipal Act defines a step-by-step process to establish a new BIA.

Downlo​ad the BIA Handbook.

  • Establish the need.
  • Communicate with interested parties.
  • Establish a steering committee.
  • Set goals and objectives.
  • Preliminary budget proposal.
  • Determine proposed boundaries.
  • Formalize request to your municipality.
  • Provide required notices.
  • Pass required bylaw.
  • Success! You’re now a proud founder of a BIA.​

Still have questions?

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