What Can a BIA do?
A Business Improvement Area can undertake a wide range of activities on behalf of its membership. The type of activities will vary from community to community as the needs of each commercial district are not necessarily the same. Most, if not all BIA’s in New Brunswick are involved in some type of physical improvement program as well as marketing and promotional activities.
The New Brunswick Main Street Program which began in 1983, assisted most of the province’s BIA’s in preparing a medium term (five-year) plan of physical improvements for their area. This program also provided financial assistance for the implementation of physical improvement projects identified in these plans. The types of projects undertaken with Main Street funds included such thing as:
• Sidewalk and curb beautification and reconstruction
• Pedestrian amenities, signage and landscaping
• Pedestrian walkways
• Small municipal parks
• Surface or ground-level parking
Over the years, initiatives have continued through various programs such as the Urban Core Agreement, the Community Improvement Program and most recently the Environmental Trust Fund.
In terms of marketing and promotion, the Business Improvement Areas have employed a variety of techniques including: media advertising, special events, signage and billboards, special sales and prize-winning contests. For the most part, these marketing efforts have been funded entirely by the BIA membership.
A number of BIA’s have broadened the mandate of their organization to include economic development initiatives. A BIA can assume a very active role in planning and indeed encouraging new developments and new businesses to locate within their boundaries. The most effective means of doing this is by working in concert with the municipality to create a climate, which is conducive to expansion of the business community. Some of the areas where the BIA and the municipality can cooperate to improve the development climate include:
• Ensuring that municipal policies and by-laws are not unduly restrictive to new commercial development.
• Preparing a comprehensive plan for future growth and development in the BIA.
• Assembling vacant or under-utilized land for redevelopment purposes or to develop additional parking.
• Preparing and implementing a marketing strategy aimed at recruiting new businesses for the BIA.
To ensure a good exchange of information, the BIA should meet regularly with municipal staff to discuss areas of mutual concern. The BIA Act provides a direct link with the municipality by requiring that at least on member of Council be appointed to the Board of Directors of the BIA Corporation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a BIA can work with its membership to encourage improvements to their properties as well as to improve business practices and merchandising methods. The BIA concept is, after all, based on a self-help approach to revitalizing business communities. Business people provide the impetus for revitalization by supporting the BIA and investing in improvements to their businesses and properties. Once the process has begun, support will come from the municipality and indeed from senior levels of government as well.