Business Improvement Areas (BIA) in Ontario

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| Published , updated May 1, 2024

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined geographic area. Business and property owners or others can request that a BIA be designated by a municipal bylaw.

Designation of improvement area

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

(a) 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

(b) to promote the area as a business or shopping area.  2001, c. 25, s. 204 (1).

Section 204 of the Municipal Act

BIAs are a Corporation of the Municipality and governed by a board of management. They are NOT not-for-profit corporations under the Ontario Corporations Act. The legislation states they are local boards.

BIAs enable local business owners and commercial property owners to join together to organize, finance, and carry out physical improvements and negotiate or advocate with the municipality on behalf of their collective interests – similar to an industry association (companies) or labour union (employees) to promote economic development in their district.

Funding via BIA Levy

Businesses within its boundaries become members and pay the BIA levy along with their property taxes. A traditional BIA view is that this structure reflects the principle that all who benefit should be required to bear their fair share of the cost of the program. In addition, the arrangement provides a secure source of funding for BIA activities.

In addition, many BIAs undertake modest or extensive public and private fundraising to raise funds for special events or activities.

History

The world’s first Business Improvement Area (BIA) was created in 1970 when Ontario passed enabling legislation to create the Bloor West Village BIA in response to a request by a Toronto business association, making it a “made-in-Ontario” innovation. Previously relying on voluntary contributions for its projects, the newly-created Bloor West Village BIA could now rely on a steady stream of revenue from a new city levy, made possible under the legislation, for long-term planning to improve the area. Every business within its boundaries contributed to the levy.

Since the creation of this first BIA, many more have been established. Now there are more than 270 BIAs in Ontario, varying in size from fewer than 60 business and property owners to more than 2000. The BIA concept is now global, adopted by more than 500 communities across Canada, 2000 throughout the United States, and thousands more around the world including Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Annual reports

A board of management shall submit its annual report for the preceding year to council by the date and in the form required by the municipality and the report shall include audited financial statements.

Section 207 of the Municipal Act

Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), 2020 directs municipalites to support viability of downtowns and mainstreets

Long-term economic prosperity should be supported by:

d) maintaining and, where possible, enhancing the vitality and viability of downtowns and mainstreets;

Section 1.7.1 d) of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2020

BIAs in Ontario

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