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Thread: Usefulness of BIAs (business improvement areas)

  1. #1
    Jan 2006
    Toronto, Ontario

    Usefulness of BIAs (business improvement areas)

    I learned about BIAs through my job last summer with an employment agency and was wondering what people's thoughts were on their usefulness, as a lot of what they do seems to be pretty meaningless aesthetic stuff that does little to actually improve a communities attractiveness to potential shoppers, businesses and real estate investors.

    Note that I'm from Toronto, where BIA's originated. We now have 64 BIAs.
    Here's a site with some info on them for anyone unfamiliar to look over:

    Actually, I think that if they all had websites that were linked through sites that are already popular and if the main bia site that I linked were actually advertised to the general public through tv or billboard ads, that would do a lot more to improve business in these areas than any of the actual street level stuff going on. I think what those involved in BIAs fail to realize is that the power of the internet and multimedia advertising are much greater than the power of a nicely planned streetscape and well-kept storefronts and facades.

    In my job, others told me that the BIAs do very little to actually help economic development in the area, though they do serve as a political force nonetheless and do get some very small things done.

    Anyway, I want to know what the rest of you think, and would like to hear about BIAs outside Toronto.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Wildono's avatar
    Aug 2006
    Running with the Proverbial Dark Lord

    Depends on WHO and HOW

    From what I've read, BIAs/BIDs can do quite a bit to improve the financial health of a business district. But BIAs require (literal) upfront buy in from the existing merchants. The business community in my work jurisdiction is too competitive and fractured when it comes to bottom line issues. In my estimation, BIAs are like Main Street Programs with revenue-generation capacity, and accountability to the represented merchants. The Main Street approach has been shown to work well generally, and it is much more than aesthetics. Organizing/networking local businesses, economic development strategies, and advert/marketing are also part of the picture - that are often part of successful BIAs.

    Aesthetics cannot be overlooked as an important factor in generating potential customer interest outside of low-income markets. However, if you're dealing with a niche market that generates high revenues for businesses and landlords amidst a sloppy and haphazard landscape that includes cig and beer posters covering windows, etc., I'd still focus on other Main Street points that better organize and market the strengths of your business community.

    BTW, I love Toronto. Back in early 1990s, it seemed like the cleanest large North American city I'd ever visited...

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    Bids have been very successful in many of the states I have worked in. Their best feature is that in most places, decisions about how to spend the funds which are raised are left to the business owners. Government just collects the funds, and does not get to spend them. That way the money is spent in an effective manner, and not as government would choose.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  4. #4
    Member Wulf9's avatar
    May 2003
    Near the Geysers
    BIDs and BIAs are particularly strong when they require universal membership. All businesses are a member because the assessment requires all businesses to pay.

    The universal membership is the reason so many main street programs are successful. The BIA is working for the benefit of all businesses within the BIA area.

    Lack of universal membership is why so many Chambers of Commerce seem ineffective. They don't serve all businesses because businesses have the option of paying or not paying -- and the Chamber tends to help members but not all businesses.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian yesteryear's avatar
    Apr 2006
    No Cal
    Having worked for a Chamber of Commerce and having owned my own business that was located in a BID - I'd have to say that both can really go either way depending on the person(s) running them.

    At one time I worked for a Chamber of Commerce that was located just outside the boundaries of a BID and it seemed like those who didn't have to join the BID joined the chamber - and then complained a lot about how the BID was unfair and how they didn't want to be forced to pay - but the same people wondered why our chamber couldn't accomplish the things that the BID folks could - well... we had dwindling membership, and little-to-no support from our members!

    On the flip side - when I owned my own business, in a very busy and well-known retail district of a medium-sized town - I was forced to join the existing BID...and I resented it intensely. Because the BID did absolutely nothing for my business... in fact, the only things they did do made it inconvenient for me.

    So I think they can be really great if they are administered properly - but of course, if you get a corrupt/lazy/greedy/jackass behind one of these things it can easily go in the wrong direction.

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