Gastown BIA

What is a Business Improvement Area?

Business Improvement Area (BIA) organizations are not-for-profit associations that promote the shared interests of commercial property owners and businesses located within the neighbourhood boundaries. These associations support the area by developing programs in marketing, promotions, street enhancement, safety & security, event planning, and business development. Each BIA organization is managed by a Board of Directors that governs the decision-making and sets the priorities for the organization.

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The History of BIA’s

BIAs first emerged in 1970 – in Toronto actually – as well as in Los Angeles.

In the late 1960’s, Toronto’s inner city was struggling with suburban sprawl as commuting cars began to fill up once vital commercial streets. A few volunteer merchant associations existed but they were not very successful, since budgets tended to be minimal. Street-front commercial areas were suffering as malls were increasing in popularity.

Bloor Street West merchants got together to look into how they could compete with “the mall.” They found that all mall tenants were required to contribute Common Area Maintenance Fees, which were used for promotions to draw in customers. They then worked with City of Toronto to develop a special BIA levy – so that individual merchants could pool their resources in a similar way, and create effective marketing programs.

The Growth of BIA’s

Vancouver’s first BIAs were formed in 1989 – in Gastown and Mount Pleasant, for similar reasons to Bloor West. BIAs are now located around the world, including Canada, the US, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany and the U.K. There are more than 1,000 BIAs in the U.S. and hundreds in Canada, including 64 in British Columbia alone.

The Contemporary role of BIA’s

Today’s BIAs do more than provide a common brand and voice for businesses. We also benefit the broader communities and the city as a whole through our contributions to street beautification, street safety, community events and sponsorships.

Every BIA is unique in their focus, priorities and approach… just like the businesses they represent. Through partnerships with other BIAs, community organizations and support to city departments, BIAs are a catalyst for positive change, helping to address broader planning, economic and social initiatives.