What is a BIA?

At the heart of a vibrant neighbourhood exists a healthy, safe and sustainable Business Improvement Area. The symbiotic relationship between ‘commercial’ and ‘residential’ helps define the character of that neighbourhood, it’s brand, and how people and businesses live and thrive within.

What is a BIA?

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined area who work in partnership with the City to create thriving and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses. By working collectively as a BIA, local businesses have the resource capacity (funds and people) to actively enhance the quality of life in their local neighbourhood and the City as a whole.

Ontario BIAs fall under provincial legislation and are regulated under the Municipal Act 

A local municipality may designate an area as an improvement area and may establish a board of management, 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 to promote the area as a business or shopping area.

Local board status

 A board of management is a local board of the municipality for all purposes.  All BIA board of management, and their staff, must follow the policies established by the municipality for Local Boards.

How is a BIA funded?

The City collects a levy from commercial property owners (usually derived from tenants), and provides it to the BIA. The cost is nominal in relation to the many benefits businesses can receive, because businesses collectively contribute to an organization that represents the entire business area and is accountable to each business. Businesses provide input to shape the budget, and vote on the budget annually at the AGM.

Building on the budget, a BIA can do more for the business area through grants, sponsorships and partnerships. To calculate the cost for a commercial property in the BIA, use the following formula: property assessment value X BIA rate = BIA levy. The BIA rate is calculated by dividing the BIA budget by the total assessed property value in the BIA boundary.

Benefits of a BIA

BIAs help form a strong and distinct image for a City’s neighbourhood as its destination to eat, shop, work, and play. This effectively markets the area as a local destination, competing against e-commerce giants and malls, and tourism destinations. 

BIAs can be catalysts for civic improvement and significant contributors to the City’s economy and the quality of life of our neighbourhoods. In order to help local commercial areas create thriving, competitive and safe business areas, the City offers a number of programs to BIAs.

BIAs improve their local economies through activities such as:

  • Street and sidewalk maintenance and capital improvements
  • Promotion of the BIA as a business, employment, tourist or shopping area (business directories, festivals, advertising)
  • Hosting neighbourhood festivals and events
  • Safety, security and crime prevention initiatives
  • Graffiti and poster removal services respecting building facades visible from the street
  • Strategic plans for business recruitment, market studies and capital improvements
  • Advocate on behalf of their membership as a unified voice

Starting a BIA

The decision to start a BIA can only be made by people who own or lease commercial and/or industrial property in the commercial area. The City of Ottawa has created a presentation on the steps to establish a BIA.

Starting a BIA-Ottawa