Viewpoint: It’s time for a change on Queen East – we need a BIA

Rebuttal to the Viewpoint appearing in the August edition of The Bulletin

By James Kelly CGA on behalf of the Steering Committe – 

We are a group of business people who have been working together for the past two years to form a Business Improvement Area (“BIA”) on Queen St. East. We have all experienced the problems in the area: concerns about safety, the appearance of the street, the effect of these issues on our businesses, employees and customers. We want Queen Street East to live up to its potential, and be a safe, clean, attractive street where businesses thrive, and people want to shop, use local services, and appreciate the history and community in the area.

We think its time for a BIA. Neighborhoods are changing all around us. If businesses don’t come together now, we will lose an opportunity to grow and develop and will stay the forgotten and shabby end of Queen Street.

There are currently 54 BIAs in Toronto representing more than 22,000 businesses. The BIAs represent a wide variety of businesses: from retail to professional and creative services; from small to large; from businesses located in well established and wealthy communities to businesses in poorer and developing areas. BIAs work because businesses in an area come together with the common purpose of enhancing their business area and improving their community.

In the past few weeks, a number of misconceptions about BIAs have circulated on Queen Street East.

Myth #1: A BIA is being shoved down the throats of local businesses by the City.
Fact: Businesses who pay commercial property taxes vote on whether they want a BIA. A BIA is formed when a majority of businesses want to work together for a safer, more profitable, and more vital business area.

Myth #2: A BIA includes social service agencies, shelters, and methadone clinics.
Fact: BIAs only includes commercial tax paying businesses. Despite what you may have been told, social services agencies, shelters, and the like are not part of the BIA.

Myth #3: A BIA will bankrupt businesses because it will cost each business thousands of dollars every year.
Fact: It will cost a business who currently pays $3,000.00 in commercial property taxes less than $200.00 PER YEAR.

Myth #4: All a BIA does is hang flower pots and banners.
Fact: Membership in a BIA brings significant benefits to businesses, including:

  • Access to City of Toronto programs, such as the Commercial Facade Improvement program;
  • Cost sharing on a 50/50 basis with the City of Toronto for streetscape improvements;
  • Public liability insurance for festivals and special events;
  • Access to low cost Employee Benefit and Group Insurance;
  • Access to a preferred VISA/Master Card merchant package;
  • Reduced cost for promotions in local media.

As well, each BIA has an annual budget which is spent based on the needs of the area. We have heard from our local businesses that safety, cleanliness, and business promotion are of vital importance and that’s where the BIA will focus.

Myth #5: BIAs do not get the street improvements that non-BIA areas get from the City.
Fact: BIAs have been successful in getting street improvements provided by the City because there is strength in numbers and BIAs are an effective lobby. A hundred businesses speaking with one voice is more effective that a single business or individual lobbying for a street improvement.

Myth #6 City Councillors control and dominate the BIAs
Fact: The BIA is run by a Board of Management, which is made up of elected business members. A BIA is an organization for business by business. As well, the local City councillor (or in our case, councillors, as the proposed BIA is in two wards) is an ex-officio member of the Board of Management. Every member of the Board has one vote. We think it is a benefit to have a councillor on the Board because that gives the BIA a direct link and access to City Hall.

BIAs have been enormous assets to business all over the City. We want to use this opportunity to form a BIA and help make Queen Street East a safe, attractive and vital place for doing business.

James G. Kelly, CGA, 475 Queen East
John Greeniaus, 199-197 Queen East
Julie and Andrew Galea Conte, Daybue Ventures, 396-404 Queen East
Ken Caskenette, Medirex, 499 Queen East
Tony De Gregario, DPM, 429 Queen East
Tatiana Sekulic, Architypes, 197 Queen East