This week the City of Toronto is mailing out over 800 ballots to commercial property owners and their tenants along the Yonge street corridor between Bishop/Hendon and Highway 401. The ballot asks whether businesses will come together to form a Business Improvement Area (BIA) in the centre of Willowdale. The majority of returned ballots will make that decision in late October.
BIAs are very successful in other parts of Toronto and benefit local businesses and their communities in a number of ways. BIAs collect a small additional levy from local businesses, expected to be in the range of $300-$400 annually for the average small business in Willowdale, depending on their commercial assessment. When pooled together, this levy creates a powerful budget for making local street improvements, beautification projects, marketing businesses in the area and organizing events to draw in customers from the community, and other areas. In addition, the City of Toronto makes grants and loans available exclusively to BIAs to pursue projects.
The City has been leaning heavily on BIAs and their leaders to put together programs assisting small businesses in recovering from COVID-19. Where business interests have a unified voice, it’s easier to move forward on a coordinated plan around programs including CurbTO, CafeTO, ActiveTO and several others. This is something that has been missing in the Willowdale community over the summer.
You may wonder why we don’t have more flower boxes or street festivals like Taste of Danforth. A BIA makes all of this possible, as it does in those neighbourhoods, helping to transform Yonge into a vibrant main street where more local residents like to walk, shop, eat and socialize with neighbours.
It is understandably challenging for some business owners to consider an additional BIA levy in middle of a pandemic that is already challenging their survival. However, there has also never been a more important time for businesses to work together with common purpose, have a voice that can effectively advocate for their interests, and increase customer traffic in the area. It is why so many local business leaders have come together and worked towards this goal.
Though our office has worked closely with the steering committee to support this project, the final decision will fall to business owners. If you like the idea of a BIA, be sure to ask if your favourite businesses on Yonge will support the idea over the next several weeks and whether they have filled out their ballot.