Business Improvement Areas

Toronto's Business Improvement Areas

More than 40 years ago, Toronto welcomed the world's first Business Improvement Area (BIA). Since then, dozens more BIAs have been created across the city, helping to advance Toronto's reputation as a city neighbourhoods.

The ABCs of BIAs

ExpandWhat is a BIA?

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined area who work in partnership with the City to create thriving, competitive, and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses. By working collectively as a BIA, local businesses have the organizational and funding capacity to be catalysts for civic improvement, enhancing the quality of life in their local neighbourhood and the City as a whole.

Toronto now boasts a total of over 80 BIAs across the City — the largest number of BIAs in North America — representing more than 35,000 businesses. Together, they generate more than $34 million in funding towards street and sidewalk beautification, marketing and promotional campaigns, street festivals, clean street / graffiti-removal campaigns, and crime prevention strategies. BIAs also act as a unified voice to address issues on behalf of their membership.

The success of Toronto’s BIA program has been marked by continued growth, expanding from 42 BIAs in 2001 to over 80 BIAs in 2015.

The decision to start a BIA can only be made by people who own or lease commercial property in the area. Starting a new BIA involves a specific process as outlined in Municipal Code Chapter 19 (PDF).

ExpandWhat are the benefits of forming a BIA?

By creating a strong and distinct image for a neighbourhood shopping area and marketing it effectively, BIAs can better compete in an age of shopping malls and big-box retailing. More recently, BIAs have been established in industrial and employment areas.

BIAs can be catalysts for civic improvement and significant contributors to the City’s economy and the quality of life of our neighbourhoods.

In order to help local commercial areas create thriving, competitive and safe business areas, the City of Toronto, through the Economic Development & Culture Division, offers a number of assistance programs to BIAs.

One of the more successful BIA Office programs is the Capital Cost-share Program, which provides matching funding to our BIA partners for streetscape beautification projects. These projects help create a more attractive and marketable image for the area and improve the atmosphere in our neighbourhoods.

Financial assistance is also available to BIAs to implement mural projects and commercial façade improvements.

Toronto BIAs are also members of an umbrella organization called the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA). TABIA encourages and facilitates the exchange of information, experiences, and ideas among BIAs; advocates on behalf of BIAs to influence government policy; helps obtain funding for programs and services for BIAs; and offers discount and savings programs for its members, such as preferred Merchant Visa and MasterCard rates.

ExpandWhat can a BIA do?

Local businesses, working collectively as a BIA, become catalysts for civic improvements, ultimately enhancing the business climate and quality of life of the neighbourhood. As a legal organization mandated by provincial legislation, BIAs are able to develop a budget for improvements and, through the city, collect a levy from businesses in the area to raise the necessary funds.

BIAs improve their local economies through activities such as:

  • Street and sidewalk maintenance and capital improvements
  • Promotion of the BIA as a business, employment, tourist or shopping area (business directories, festivals, advertising)
  • Hosting neighbourhood festivals and events
  • Safety, security and crime prevention initiatives
  • Graffiti and poster removal services respecting building facades visible from the street
  • Strategic plans for business recruitment, market studies and capital improvements
  • Advocate on behalf of their membership as a unified voice.

ExpandHow does a BIA work?

A BIA is run by a volunteer Board of Management elected from its members. The Board is nominated at an Annual General Meeting and, once approved by City Council, serves a four-year term concurrent with the term of Council. The Board works on behalf of its BIA and meets regularly to develop budgets, set priorities, implement capital improvements, plan festivals, and promote its business area.

ExpandHow is a BIA funded?

Once the BIA members approve the budget and City Council ratifies it, funds are raised through a levy on all commercial and industrial properties within the BIA’s boundary. Calculation of this levy is based on the proportionate value of each property’s commercial and/or industrial assessment. Once the City collects the levy, it returns the funds to the BIA to manage.

Steps to Establish a BIA

The decision to start a BIA can only be made by people who own or lease commercial and/or industrial property in the area. Sections 19.4 and 19.5 in the Municipal Code Chapter 19 (PDF) detail the processes required to establish a BIA.

ExpandSTEP 1 - Establish a Steering Committee

Comprised of five or more people, the Steering Committee should include commercial and/or industrial property owners and business tenants that represent various types of businesses and geographic sections within the area. The Committee's main role is to gauge stakeholder interest in forming a BIA and to define the geographic area. With assistance from the City the Committee must develop an implementation strategy addressing the rationale for forming a BIA including potential benefits for the area and objectives for future improvements.

ExpandSTEP 2 - Determine Community Interest

The Steering Committee must provide business and property owners with information about BIAs. Informal meetings and consultation sessions with area stakeholders are good ways to confirm the area boundaries, clarify issues, and validate the level of interest.

The Committee should report the level of stakeholder interest to the City BIA Office in order to determine sufficient support in proceeding to step three.

ExpandSTEP 3 – Hold Public Meeting(s) and Formal BIA Request

On behalf of the Steering Committee, the City will organize and host formal public meeting(s) to determine if there is sufficient interest in establishing a new BIA. If more than 50% of those in attendance support moving to the formal polling stage, the Steering Committee then makes a formal request to proceed.

ExpandSTEP 4 – Polling Process

The City will conduct a poll of all commercial and industrial property owners within the proposed boundary. Property owners must forward a copy of the poll to their tenants.

The Steering Committee is responsible for distributing a copy of the notice to commercial/ industrial tenants in the area. Property owners and business tenants are asked to return ballots to the City Clerk's Office.

City Council can approve the establishment of a BIA if:

  • at least 30% of the ballots mailed (or a minimum of 100, whichever is lower) are returned to the City Clerk's Office
  • more than 50% of the ballots are in favour of creating a BIA.

Steps to Expand a BIA

The decision to expand a BIA can only be made by people who own or lease commercial and/or industrial property in the area. Sections 19.4 and 19.6 in the Municipal Code Chapter 19 (PDF) detail the processes required to establish a BIA.

ExpandSTEP 1 - Establish a Steering Committee for a BIA Expansion

Once the BIA Board of Management, with the approval of its membership, approves of the expansion proposal a Steering Committee must be formed. Comprised of five or more people, the Steering Committee should include commercial and/or industrial property owners and business tenants that represent various types of businesses and geographic sections within the expansion area and existing BIA. The Committee's main role is to gauge stakeholder interest in the expansion area and to define the geographic area. With assistance from the City the Committee must develop an implementation strategy addressing the rationale for expanding the BIA including potential benefits for the area and objectives for future improvements.

ExpandSTEP 2 - Determine Community Interest with the Expansion Area

The Steering Committee must provide business and property owners within the expansion area with information about BIAs. Informal meetings and consultation sessions with area stakeholders are good ways to confirm the area boundaries, clarify issues, and validate the level of interest.

The Committee should report the level of stakeholder interest to the City BIA Office in order to determine sufficient support in proceeding to step three.

ExpandSTEP 3 – Hold Public Meeting(s) and Formal BIA Expansion Request

On behalf of the Steering Committee, the City will organize and host formal public meeting(s) to determine if there is sufficient interest in expanding the BIA. If more than 50% of those in attendance support moving to the formal polling stage, the Steering Committee then makes a formal request to proceed.

ExpandSTEP 4 – Polling Process for Expansion

The City will conduct a poll of all commercial and industrial property owners within the proposed expansion area. Property owners must forward a copy of the poll to their tenants.

The Steering Committee is responsible for distributing a copy of the notice to commercial/ industrial tenants in the expansion area. Property owners and business tenants are asked to return ballots to the City Clerk's Office.

City Council can approve the expansion of a BIA if:

  • at least 30% of the ballots mailed (or a minimum of 100, whichever is lower) are returned to the City Clerk's Office
  • more than 50% of the ballots are in favour of expanding the BIA.