Do's and Don'ts in Starting Your BIA
Starting a Business Improvement Area in your city or town is a big task, but it is also a rewarding one for current and future generations of entrepreneurs in your community. A BIA gives businesses a voice, and also the power to make their neighbourhoods more sustainable. Below are some helpful do's and don'ts when starting a BIA. Please don't hesitate to contact BIABC for specific assistance in realizing your municipality's new BIA.
DO establish a Sponsor Group
Building a BIA from the ground up is the work of many hands. Try to involve as many like-minded business and property owners in contemplation and exploration phase of setting up a BIA. These will be people who know your community and agree with the vision of the establishment of a BIA. Everyone has their differences, but everyone in this Sponsor Group should be of the same mind and are piloting the organization in the same direction.
DO have your BIA Sponsor Group become a registered non-profit society
Before you set off to establish a BIA in your community, make sure that your Sponsor Group becomes a registered non-profit society with the Corporate Registry in Victoria. A legal name for the Society will not be approved without a corporate name search/reservation.
DO draft a Constitution and By-laws
Constitution and By-laws must be passed by the general membership, but the BC Society Act does provide a boilerplate version that you (and your lawyer) can build for on by the founding Sponsor Group members to use in the meantime for governance and direction, which must be pre-approved by the Registrar.
Otherwise, your first BIA Constitution and By-laws must be presented and approved for membership vote at your very first AGM. All Constitutions and By-Laws must conform with the BC Society Act, BIA provisions in the Community Charter and municipal requirements. Start with examples from established BIAs, retain legal advice, and consult with City Hall.
DO determine an annual budget amount, but make it realistic AND sustainable
Review the budgets of existing BIAs to get a sense of possible BIA activities and their annual costs – and your annual budgets. Consider retaining a consultant or student to do analysis of your area’s needs and prepare a strategy. A coherent strategy is essential to winning support for the BIA.
Develop a business improvement proposal that addresses your priorities while being realistic about the amount that your members will be capable or willing to pay. Be prepared to amend your budget proposal. Consider ‘going public’ with options that are later narrowed down by surveys and other outreach activities. Most of all, be realistic in scaling your annual budget, with modest increases in subsequent years. A flat rate number is fine in Year One, but that same flat rate number by Year Five does not give your organization the same financial flexibility – in fact, it gives you much less.
DO take your time in your Outreach period
Outreach should take place over at least a 6 months period, and be conducted in a way that builds consensus for the proposal. Nothing will more effectively erode support for a BIA than the perception that a proposal is being ‘rammed through’. Take extra care to reach specific interests and ethnic groups within the proposed BIA. Enlist respected individuals (‘champions’) to reach out to others within their ethnic communities.
Outreach process may consist of direct contact, public information meetings held by the Sponsor Group (and attended by City’s representative), mailout/hand delivery of meeting notices, information flyers, newsletters, and written/oral surveys. The Sponsor keeps copies of all material produced and forwards it to City Council and could even post it on the new Association's website as documentation of its outreach efforts.
DO work directly with business owners
Property owners may pay the BIA levy, but the real rate-payers are the Business Owner tenants who lease from the property owner Landlords – as the levy is usually passed on in full to the tenant in the lease by the Landlord. Make sure that business owners are actively engaged and directly involved in the process as equally as with your property owners. Tenants need to see the benefits, as they will be your biggest advocates! There are usually more business owners than property owners, and they have influence with their Landlord just as they have influence with your BIA. Make sure that the business owner who is in favour of the BIA is encouraging his or her Landlord to be in favour of the proposal, too – Landlords listen to the needs of their tenants, and if they hear a tenant wants a BIA in their neighbourhood and is willing to absorb the levy through their lease to gain overall benefit, this is better for your proposal.
DO conduct an extensive survey during your outreach period
Sponsor Groups should distribute an informal survey, at the end of the Outreach phase, to all the owners and businesses. The survey asks if they support the BIA proposal. The results of the survey help City Council to determine whether the proposal seems to be generally supported. If the proposal appears to be supported, Council proceeds to the next step (Council Initiative). For the sponsor group, this may be a good ‘reality check’ before moving to the next step. Likewise, a poor survey return rate may indicate low awareness of the proposal or its implications.
DO start planning your first AGM
If the BIA is approved, you will need to have a general meeting to approve your Year 1 budget. All Class 5 and 6 property owners and tenants must receive notice of the meeting. The notice must comply with the Society Act, and the By-laws of the non-profit society which will manage the BIA. Generally, 21 days notice is required for mailed notices. The notice must clearly state the purpose of the meeting, and should include a copy of the proposed budget and a membership form. In Vancouver, BIA society by-laws state that for a person be a (voting) member in good standing, the person must return the enclosed application form, with nominal fee if applicable, by the stated deadline.
DON’T make your proposed BIA area too small, but DON’T make it too big, either!
All Class 5 and 6 property owners and tenants within the BIA boundary are eligible for voting membership, so determine a geographic boundary that makes sense. Is there a common interest, type of business, or character that unites the area? What is a solid area of support? What blocks/areas are likely to be unsupportive? Who will benefit/not benefit? How many properties are needed to spread the proposed budget? Be prepared to change the proposed boundaries as a result of input you receive. Larger BIA boundaries help spread costs among more owners, but don’t lose sight of where your support is likely to be.
DON’T forget to talk to EVERYONE in your proposed BIA – as many times as possible
A Sponsor Group should make every effort to contact ALL property owners and merchants regarding the BIA proposal and the amount they would likely pay under the proposed levy. Although time consuming, direct personal contact with property and business owners is essential, preferably face-to-face, or at least by telephone. It is essential that the sponsor group be very explicit about the annual cost of the proposal. People may support the BIA in principle, but when the municipal government sends out the formal notices showing the actual cost to the property owner, they may oppose the BIA if the cost is significantly higher than they anticipated.
DON’T pretend your BIA is a “done deal”
Never talk as if the BIA proposal is cast in stone, or the product of a small closed group. You need to reach out, and be gaining as much feedback and consensus as possible with your colleagues. Their needs and priorities should be clearly reflected in the BIA proposal. If the process is seen as open, inclusive and consultative, it is more likely to be supported.
DON’T confuse a ‘negative response’ vote for anti-BIA sentiment
After all your hard work, the City Council Initiative process begins. It requires a negative response from those who oppose the BIA application – meaning those who wish the BIA to succeed and be installed in their community are not required to register their opinion. The number of negative responses received are weighted against the number of commercial property owners and the amount of property they own within the proposed BIA. This will determine the pass/fail of your BIA.
A low number of negative responses received during the 30-day initiative process can indicate that the process was inclusive enough, and that the proposal enjoys significant support amongst potential members. But remember, low participation can also be a sign of quiet opposition evident only after the formal City notices are received. If widespread opposition is registered at this late stage in the process, there is usually little that can be done to stem the tide.
DON’T worry if there’s pushback to your BIA proposal
If there are concentrations of opposition on or near the proposed BIA boundary, work to understand what that pushback is, and see if it is a misunderstanding, a personality issue, or legitamate concern. Open discussion and patience is key. Some potential members may not like the idea of a BIA and can't see what the benefit is to them. Being able to clearly and positively discuss the residual benefits a BIA brings to the entire business community and how when businesses work together, financial benefit flows back businesses in the established district in its many different ways will help counter negative opinion. If there is still localized contention, consider requesting Council to approve a reduced BIA boundary which would exclude the area(s) of non-support and permit the BIA to proceed in the core area(s) where it is supported.
If you need more best practices for creating or renewing a BIA in your business district, please contact BIABC at firstname.lastname@example.org and consider joining us as a member of BIABC to receive helpful information and benefits.