Formally structured business zones had a long and successful track record in most major American cities, before similar agencies evolved in this country. British Columbia was the last province in Canada to make the move.
They were a response by traditional business neighbourhoods to competition from suburban shopping centers. Tenants in these modern malls and plazas were obligated as a condition of their lease to contribute to joint promotional efforts. Unfortunately, for traditional downtowns and "main streets," community minded promoters were invariably outnumbered by businesses that either went their own way, or which hoped to slipstream for free the investments by neighbours.
BIAs are the result of a democratic process where a majority of businesses in a district could petition their local government to create an autonomous authority for both marketing and direct management of issues. Membership fees would be collected as a factor of property taxes.
A Business Improvement Association represents all businesses within a specific district of a city or region, both property owners and tenants. Provincial legislation defines the steps necessary for a neighborhood to become a BIA, but its business plan and budget must be approved by the municipal government. It is a self-taxing agency. The business membership determines the budget and then requests that the funds be collected as a levy against property taxes. This is known in Vancouver as "The BIA Levy."
BIAs operate not unlike major shopping centres, engaging on behalf of all businesses within the neighborhood in matters such as promotion, festivals, crime prevention, security, cleanliness, transportation, parking and advocacy. BIAs succeeded where voluntary business organizations have often failed because the financial contribution of all properties and businesses is obligatory.
BIAs In British Columbia
The Vancouver movement was initially led by the Gastown redevelopment, and particularly Gastown promoters who were also members of the Downtown Businessmen's Association (now Downtown Vancouver Association). The property owners, developers and retail businesses who were leading efforts to totally revitalize what had become a nationally-embarrassing skid road, grew frustrated by the slumlords and absentee landlords who refused to contribute.
Their first collective action led to local improvement projects by the City of Vancouver with the tax shared by all Gastown properties. But this did not solve the need for promotional funds to advertise the district like a shopping or entertainment centre. Strong leadership came from Phil Boname, Ed Keate, planner John Ellis and many others to find a better way.
These pioneers launched their campaign for provincial BIA legislation during the mid-1970s, but had to wait until 1988 to realize their goal through provincial legislation. In 1989, the Gastown Business Improvement Society became the first BIA in B.C. and the Downtown Vancouver BIA went into business a year later with Boname and Keate also playing a central role in its formation.
Creation of the Downtown Vancouver BIA required careful planning in three areas. Much of the leadership came from the Downtown Vancouver Association (DVA), which debated three key hurdles: boundaries - some argued to include the whole downtown peninsula, while others wanted more focus, a business plan, and a proposed budget.
Today, there are over 50 BIAs in BC with 22 in Vancouver alone. The downtown Vancouver peninsula has seven BIAs: the DVBIA, the Robson Street Business Association, the Gastown Business Improvement Society, the West End Business Improvement Association, the Yaletown Business Improvement Association, Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association and the Chinatown Business Improvement Association.
Other Vancouver BIAs are Mount Pleasant, Kerrisdale, South Granville, Commercial Drive, (South Hill) Fraser Street, Marpole, Strathcona Area, Collingwood, Hastings North, Kitsilano Fourth Avenue, Victoria Drive, Point Grey Village and Cambie Village.
The City of Vancouver works closely with BIAs. The City's full-time professional coordinator since 1998 is Peter Vaisbord, a lawyer with a Master's degree in planning. There has been a rapid growth of BIAs in Vancouver since he first took the position, assisting many neighbourhoods in the democratic processes necessary to achieve Council approval and a mandate.
Provincially, the BIAs are represented by the Business Improvements Areas of BC (BIABC).