Why we need a BIA in Leaside

It’s 1967. A young man named Alex Ling operated a successful small store on Bloor St. West, catering largely to the local community.

Then his world changed.

In that year the Bloor-Danforth subway opened. Former streetcar passengers who had frequented the local shops of Bloor West disappeared. New shopping malls like Yorkdale and Sherway Gardens with free parking attracted local shoppers in their cars. Local business suffered.

At that time there were 275 business establishments along Alex’s half-mile portion of Bloor West. Storefronts sat vacant. A used car lot took up one full block on the north side. Six gas stations occupied the south side. The intersection of Bloor and Jane featured an abandoned streetcar loop.

Alex and some other business owners along his stretch of Bloor West came up with an idea: They asked City Hall and Queen’s Park to enable their group to establish an association with statutory authority to compel neighbouring businesses to pay a levy for the purpose of revitalizing their business area through physical improvements and promotional activities. The levy would be collected by the city like a tax and turned over to the local board of management to be applied in accordance with a budget to be established by the association.

In short, their idea was to create a statutory mall-like unifying and promotional regime without the mall owner to siphon off a profit.

Their initiative led to an amendment to the provincial Municipal Act authorizing the establishment of what is now called Business Improvement Areas – BIAs. Bloor West Village thus became the world’s first BIA in 1970.

On Bloor West the transformation was immediate and dramatic. Lights were hung in the trees. Colourful flower boxes and distinctive benches made the area an inviting place to go shopping. Over ensuing years the area was made increasingly attractive and inviting.

In time the used car lot and the gas stations were redeveloped into retail shops with office units above. The streetcar loop eventually became a medical complex.

The brand name Bloor West Village now resonates across the city.

The concept of the BIA has since grown in Toronto and throughout Canada – and has even spread to other parts of the globe. Bloor West Village is now one of 75 BIAs in Toronto.

Ever heard of Taste of the Danforth? It is a street festival put on each year by the Danforth BIA. Beaches Jazz? Another BIA initiative.

Why am I telling this story in Leaside Life? Of all the significant shopping districts in Toronto, our section of Bayview is one of the few that does not have a BIA. For that reason I have partnered with Josh Matlow, my colleague on the west side of Bayview, and with a core group of Bayview business operators, to establish a BIA on south Bayview.

In support of this effort we have convened several meetings and sponsored a number of guest lectures. We had a meeting in May featuring Alex Ling himself.

A BIA is formed once enough local business operators vote for it in a special poll. We believe we are close to reaching the critical mass of support required to make it happen on Bayview.

How can you help? When you go shopping on Bayview, tell your favourite business operator that you have confidence in the benefits of a BIA. Let our businesses know that you look forward to streetscape improvements and sidewalk festivals. Remind them that every nickel they put into the BIA levy comes back to their association and helps strengthen our community for everyone.

If we all do our part, we can help make south Bayview an even better place for our local businesses and our residents.

Article written by John Parker, Councillor, Toronto Ward 26.