Multiple local BIAs are making moves to expand their boundaries after the pandemic revealed just how many businesses exist just outside their current borders.
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Multiple business improvement areas (BIAs) are making moves to expand their boundaries after the pandemic revealed just how many businesses exist just outside their current borders. On Tuesday, the Kanata Central and Heart of Orléans BIAs received approval from the city’s finance committee to expand their boundaries, but they are not the only BIAs making changes. The newly launched Centretown BIA (formerly the Bank Street BIA), as well as the Sparks Street BIA are also exploring boundary adjustments in the hopes of providing support for more businesses currently without a BIA. According to Lauri Moussa, executive director of Kanata Central BIA, the idea to expand came up during the pandemic. “During COVID, I had many, many businesses that are not in our BIA area reach out to me and say, ‘What’s going on? What are the restrictions? What do we have to do? Where can I get a grant?’” said Moussa. “It’s not something we do on an ordinary day, but during the pandemic we said, ‘We’ll assist you as much as we can.’” The businesses who reached out were just outside of the BIA’s boundaries. For many of them, it was a revelation to learn of the kind of support a BIA can provide, Moussa said. “They see the work that we’re doing and they want to be a part of it,” she said. “When you have enough people knocking on your door, it’s time to do something about it.” The Kanata Central BIA’s proposal will expand existing boundaries to include businesses to the north, east and south. According to Moussa, the change would allow about 190 businesses currently just outside of the area to become members. That means the BIA will be servicing around 350 businesses in total. For businesses, Moussa said being a member of a BIA can increase exposure and bring them closer to their city councillor and all levels of government. They also have access to BIA membership events and programming, grants, and other resources and services. “For us, it allows us to service more businesses and help more businesses,” she said. “About 45 per cent of our membership are locally owned and operated and it’s those small businesses that push our economy. There are also many different (types of) businesses within the new boundary that we don’t currently have in our BIA. And it will increase our levy to allow us to do more things with our BIA.” For the Heart of Orléans BIA, expanded boundaries would include four future LRT stations (Jeanne d’Arc, Convent Glen, Place d’Orléans and Trim) as well as the Youville, Taylor Creek and Jeanne d’Arc business communities. According to executive director Tannis Vine, the BIA reached out to more than 400 neighbouring businesses and commercial properties that could be included within the new boundaries during the BIA’s community consultation phase and received overwhelming support. In an email to OBJ, Vine said the expansion is in response to the community’s growth, as well as to requests from a number of businesses in Orléans that are just outside the BIA’s current area. “Since the BIA was formed, we have seen tremendous growth in Orléans, both in residential and business communities,” she said. “Despite the pandemic, over 30 new businesses opened between 2020 and 2022 with very few closing. Orléans is also the first suburb to receive light rail transit with four new LRT stations being built by 2024 with riders on the train in 2025.” Vine added that the expansion will double the BIA’s current area. “When the Orléans Chamber amalgamated with the Ottawa Board of Trade, there was this gap,” said Orléans West-Innes Coun. Laura Dudas at the committee meeting on Tuesday. “There was this open opportunity for businesses to gel together and the Heart of Orléans BIA did just that. They really advocated beyond their existing borders. This expansion is almost a natural progression.” The Sparks Street BIA is also looking to make changes and will be working with the recently launched Centretown BIA as it does the same, according to Sparks Street BIA executive director Kevin McHale. He said the decision to expand was also prompted by the pandemic, as well as the “Freedom Convoy” occupation, when downtown businesses needed extra support. “Other than Bank Street (now Centretown BIA) and Sparks, there is no big representation downtown,” he said. “We were really hearing from these owners and managers who were wondering, ‘Why is Sparks Street here doing this work instead of our BIA?’ And it was like, well, you don’t have a BIA.” He noted that his BIA doesn’t even cover all of Sparks Street and, as a result, blocks of businesses don’t have any representation. His organization, he said, is currently in the exploration phase, to figure out what changes would work best for the area. “There’s a practical standpoint for the downtown core,” he said. “You go to certain areas and things like cleanliness and graffiti, these core things that BIAs help with, aren’t being taken care of. It’s an opportunity to put the downtown on a better footing.” While it could take a few years before the Sparks Street and Centretown BIAs expand, both the Kanata Central and Heart of Orléans BIAs said their expansion process should take about a year. With city council’s approval, both are expecting to welcome new businesses into the fold in January. “An expansion is not an easy or short process,” said Michelle Groulx, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas (OCOBIA). BIAs looking to expand their boundaries are required to go door-to-door, with the support of their councillor, to engage with neighbouring businesses and commercial properties to gauge their support. After that, the results of the research are assessed and presented to a city committee. Businesses also need to have constant means of giving feedback to the BIA. According to the City of Ottawa website, the purpose of a BIA is to improve, beautify and maintain public lands and buildings within the BIA boundary beyond the services already provided by the municipality. BIAs are responsible for promoting their area as a business and shopping district to attract residents and businesses. They also implement actions to support economic development and business growth opportunities, as well as identifying ways to attract new businesses to the area. Once an expansion proposal is approved by city council, businesses within the boundaries become members and pay a BIA levy via their annual property taxes. The city then transfers those amounts to the BIA. The levy, which is used to fund the BIA’s annual budget (also approved by city council), is determined by multiple factors, including the total assessment value of the entire BIA boundary, individual property assessment values, and tax ratios and rates. In turn, the BIA provides valuable programming and services that help businesses thrive. “As we came out of the pandemic, BIAs are looking at expansion to support neighbourhoods and build communities beyond a 'main street,'” said Groulx. “OCOBIA absolutely supports expansion where it means that neighbourhoods flourish with engaging streetscapes and experiences and businesses benefit from the marketing, beautification, events and advocacy a BIA brings.”