A Business Improvement Area, or BIA for short, is typically a designated geographic area in which local business property owners and tenants work together to promote and improve the economic vitality of the area. Very much an Ontario innovation, the first BIA was established in Toronto in 1970 in Bloor West Village. This is where we introduce Alex Ling, a prominent figure who ‘eats and sleeps the BIA philosophy’. Alex led the way making a success of this BIA, then assisted in creating the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), in conjunction with City Hall.
There are now currently 80 BIAs across Toronto – each one proactively working with businesses to improve their own catchment areas. In this article we take a closer look at the Toronto Downtown West BIA (TDWBIA) which serves one of Toronto’s most dynamic neighbourhoods – the Entertainment District. TDWBIA covers one of Toronto’s most visited areas, with world-renowned attractions, theatres and performing arts centres, sports venues, bars and restaurants, retail, and many other types of businesses.
Since 2008 the area between Queen and Lake Shore Blvd West, and Bay and Spadina has experienced a significant transformation. This includes infrastructure investment projects, brand new entertainment attractions venues and an awesome number of condo blocks – the latter resulting in a huge number of residents, the figure is estimated to be around 55,000 by 2030! TDWBIA has had to focus on evolving strategies that embrace the changes and further develop the economy of this ever-changing downtown area. They help attract new businesses, support local entrepreneurship, and create an environment conducive to business growth.
Marketing and Promotion:
TDWBIA has a busy schedule marketing and promoting the huge array of activities and events happening in its district, such as sports events, film festivals and art exhibitions. Just within the last week or so there has been the Canadian Sports Film Festival, a Taste Italy Experience, the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Armenia and Canada’s Drag Race Season 4 Launch Party, to name just a tiny few! TDWBIA’s role involves advertising campaigns and other initiatives that help increase foot traffic and generate business for all local establishments.
TDWBIA provides a platform for all businesses within its district to collaborate and engage with the community. Keeping communication channels open and healthy is key to their everyday work. This helps build stronger relationships between businesses and residents, fosters a real sense of community in the area, and maintains loyalty among customers. TWBIA has run a series of educational and social community sessions this year, including Safeguarding Against Organized Crime, De-escalation Training, Community Safety and Wellbeing, and The BIA Summer Social. All of these have provided great networking opportunities for both members and the public.
Tracking and Monitoring Developments:
This area of Toronto continues to have an incredible rate of growth. TDWBIA proactively collaborates with developers to track and monitor projects, such as the Ontario Line project. All information is shared with BIA members and the public, and reciprocal feedback provided to developers on how individual projects are having an impact on business and pedestrian experiences in the area.
Beautification and Infrastructure Improvement:
Like all other BIAs in Toronto, TDWBIA invests in physical improvement of its district. This includes beautification projects, street cleaning, and infrastructure upgrades. For example, the upcoming John Street project will enhance sidewalks with better paving surface, lighting, tree canopy and Wi-Fi. This year the BIA beautification and maintenance program has been busier than ever providing banners, pole wraps and flower baskets – all of which create a more attractive and inviting environment for businesses and customers alike.
The above are just five different ways that BIAs are proactively helping businesses within their districts in Toronto. You can find out more about what TDWBIA has been doing this year by checking out their annual report. A well-functioning BIA can play a crucial role in fostering a thriving business community by addressing common challenges, promoting economic development, and enhancing the overall appeal of the designated area. Each BIA will of course tailor its services to the individual district it serves, as districts vary greatly across the city.
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