Main streets attract investment, jobs, and residents. They are cultural destinations, and economic engines that bring vibrancy and growth to our communities.
In short, the recipe for economic competitiveness and a high quality of life for Edmontonians includes successful main streets. They are places where people gather, and are often the place where people will go for a night out, or a weekend activity, as well as where tourists are drawn to. That is not all. The success of our main streets is also deeply aligned with the strategic goals we’ve laid out in our major plans, like the City Plan, and our Energy Transition Strategy.
Making our neighbourhoods even better places to live by enhancing our main streets is not only economic action, it’s environmental action, and social action. Where you can live, how you can move around our city, and what amenities are available to you has substantial implications for your quality of life, and cost of living.
As we move forward in 2021, filling vacant storefronts and revitalizing neglected areas is an important step on the path towards a robust local economic recovery. That is why our relationship with Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) is so important. Understanding the needs of BIAs in the context of Edmonton, and Ward Métis is fundamental to being a councillor that can deliver support for business, and grow our communities. This blog post will discuss the origins of BIA’s, the important role they have in local economic development here in Ward Métis, and how they fit in with the City we are building
The Emergence of Business Improvement Areas (BIAs)
Over 50 years ago, in response to an economic downturn a group of business owners in Toronto came together to develop a new framework to revitalize commercial main street districts. Under a new provincial legislation, this group of business owners created a self-help program, called Business Improvement Areas (BIAs).
The legislation empowered the business members to pool their funds and promote their main street districts, as well as make a number of physical improvements to the areas, such as banners, flowers and lighting. All of these strategies worked to encourage people to come back to the district, which not only benefited the local businesses, but also the entire neighbourhood. This was the birth of real community economic development.
Champions for the Business Community
So, what makes a BIA different from other commercial areas of the city? These commercial districts have a community collective representing the interests of the businesses within them, they have additional resources, focus and buy-in from everyone in the community to improve the area. A BIA will often have a team of volunteers and staff to execute on the strategies and goals of the organization, which in turn, benefits the businesses and community. Beyond strategies supporting economic growth, they also increase our local economy's resilience and ability to cope with hard times.
Throughout the pandemic, BIA’s have been fundamental to the survival of our local business community by serving as an advocate and bridge builder between business and government.
In Edmonton, areas like Whyte Ave, 124 Street, Beverly, and Alberta Avenue all have BIAs that support the growth and revitalization of their communities and businesses. If you look back to Whyte Ave in the 1980’s for example, it was a downtrodden area. The main street’s infrastructure was falling apart and there were far fewer desirable businesses in the area that attracted people.
Edmonton has 13 BIA’s, and across Canada BIA’s have been so successful there are over 500, and over 30 in Alberta. Each district is unique, but they all have common mandates to revitalize, enhance and promote their commercial districts.
In the 1980’s, a group of business owners created a business association and then in 1993, a BIA to collectively work together to revitalize the area, and thus their businesses. They invested in new decorative street lights, sidewalks made from paving stones, created events to attract people and also focused on improving safety.
All of this work wouldn’t have been possible without the formation of the BIA, and today, these BIAs are working on behalf of the businesses to support economic recovery, business retention and development. Studies show that businesses in a BIA recover faster than those not in a BIA.
BIAs in Ward Métis
Ward Métis is home to three BIAs: Alberta Avenue, Beverly, and the French Quarters.
Main Streets Matter
They are cultural hubs with events, theatre, music, entertainment, shopping, food and more. They can be described as the heart of the city, and when you look back into history, these main streets were the downtowns of the cities, like Beverly, Strathcona, and Jasper Avenue.
Edmontonians appreciate the value of main streets like Beverly or Alberta Ave., and get excited about opportunities like 101st Ave. These places are brimming with opportunity and as a City, we need to be looking to create a supportive environment for businesses and development to take root. At the end of the day, the vitality that they bring adds up, attracting jobs, residents, and more businesses.
Supporting BIAs and Main Streets
Looking at the big picture, successful main streets are central to building 15-minute communities. For Edmonton to make that happen, the City has to be an active collaborator with BIA's. BIA's support local business and economic growth, and the City has an incredibly important role to play as both a regulator, and as the principle agent maintaining infrastructure and delivering services like transportation.
Edmonton's approach to supporting main streets must include well maintained infrastructure, public realm improvements, more rapid and flexible permitting, and improving safety and security for businesses and community members. At the same time, a major lever we can pull to support businesses and achieve broader City goals is delivering good quality transportation, and supporting more mid-rise buildings along major corridors. By building up around nodes and corridors like 118th Avenue, 101st Avenue, and Bonnie Doon here in Ward Métis, we will help businesses take root and make our communities even better places to live.
Over 50 years ago an economic downturn opened the door to BIA’s. It’s time to turn to the next page in local economic development. From the renewal of our zoning bylaw, and bus network redesign, to the implementation of the recommendations from the community safety and wellbeing task force, the decisions made at City Hall have meaningful effects on main streets. Understanding the expertise, and on the ground knowledge that BIA's bring to the table is essential to supporting the success of these areas, and ultimately our City. As your councillor I will work hard to ensure we create the conditions for successful main streets in our communities, fill vacant storefronts, and deliver on our goal to build a 15-minute city.
Cherie Klassen & Ashley Salvador