A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is a geographically defined urban area which contains primarily non-residential properties. In New Brunswick, BIA boundaries usually encompass the area which has traditionally been considered the “downtown” of a community. The BIA concept provides a framework for organized business communities to cooperatively design and manage; promotional campaigns, beautification and upgrading programs and various other revitalization initiatives.
In 1981 the New Brunswick government passed into law the Business Improvement Areas Act. This legislation gives a municipal council the authority to establish a BIA, by by-law, when petitioned to do so by the business community. A non-trading corporation is then formed by the business community to represent the interests of the BIA. All businesses and owners of commercial property located within the BIA become members of the new corporation.
Once the BIA Corporation has been established, the Board of Directors can request that council impose a levy on all non-residential property located within the boundaries of the BIA. The funds generated by the levy can be used by the corporation for such things as: establishing and operating an office, implementing promotional campaigns, and undertaking improvement and beautification projects within the BIA. The corporation must submit a budget to the municipal council each year outlining how the funds will be spent before the levy can be imposed.
The BIA Act then provides the basic tools necessary for a business community to initiate a self-help program of renewal for their area. By forming a BIA the business community defines its boundaries; the area which will be the focus of its efforts. The establishment of a corporation provides the organizational structure required to plan and manage improvement and promotions programs for the BIA. Once the business community is organized, the BIA provides funding for the corporation’s activities and ensures that the owners of businesses and properties in the BIA have a vested interest in the improvement of their area.
By forming a BIA, a business community is bringing together a number of independent businesses and adopting a common approach to improving the area’s competitiveness. Centralized management, cooperative promotions and shared improvement projects means that the BIA is operating in a similar fashion to the shopping malls that have become their principal competition.
The success of a BIA is largely dependent on the degree to which the business community is supportive of the organization. It is also important to develop a good working relationship with the municipality as council approval is required for the BIA Corporation’s budget as well as for any improvement projects that may be contemplated for the BIA.
The BIA concept is a self-help approach to revitalizing business districts. It requires a substantial investment of time and financial resources on the part of the business people involved. Past experience has demonstrated that when the members are seriously committed to the BIA approach, it will almost certainly be successful.