submitted by Deron Johnston

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined area who work in partnership with the Municipality to create thriving and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses. By working collectively as a BIA, local businesses have the resource capacity (funds and people) to actively enhance the quality of life in their local neighbourhood and the Municipality as a whole.

Ontario BIAs fall under provincial legislation and are regulated under the Municipal Act, therefore they are a “Corporation of the Municipality”. BIAs are NOT “not-for-profit” corporations under the Ontario Corporations Act and should not be confused with one. A BIA has unique and specific connections with the municipality as a private-public partnership, one that supports community and economic development with funds raised solely for that work outside of the general taxpayers.

A local municipality may designate an area as an improvement area and may establish a board of management, to oversee the improvement, beautification and maintenance of municipally-owned land, buildings and structures in the area beyond that provided at the expense of the municipality generally; and to promote the area as a business or shopping area. 

A BIA is governed by a board of management which is a local board of the municipality for all purposes. The BIA Board of Management, and their staff, must follow the policies established by the municipality for Local Boards and policies created by the Board of Management itself. 

How is a BIA funded?

The municipality collects a levy from commercial property owners (usually derived from tenants) and provides it to the BIA. The cost is nominal in relation to the many benefits businesses can receive because businesses collectively contribute to an organization that represents the entire business area. Businesses may provide input to shape the annual budget at the Annual General Meeting and other membership meetings held.

Building on the budget, a BIA can do more for the business area through grants, sponsorships and partnerships. To calculate the cost for a commercial property in the BIA, use the following formula: property assessment value X BIA rate = BIA levy. The BIA rate is calculated by dividing the BIA budget by the total assessed property value in the BIA boundary. 

Benefits of a BIA

BIAs help form a strong and distinct image for a municipality’s neighbourhood as its destination to eat, shop, work, and play. This effectively markets the area as a local destination, competing against e-commerce giants and malls, and tourism destinations. The BIA is a ‘collective good’ model.

BIAs can be catalysts for civic improvement, and significant contributors to the municipality’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 municipality may offer programs to BIAs.

BIAs improve their local economies through activities such as:


  • Public Realm Investment
  • Street and sidewalk maintenance and capital improvements.
  • Vandalism and graffiti removal services respecting building facades visible from the street.
  • Beautification of public spaces through hanging seasonal banners, floral displays, landscaping and decorative lighting.


  • Helping to facilitate business attraction, retention and expansion.
  • Promoting learning opportunities, funding opportunities and business development initiatives for membership.
  • Strategic planning for investment attraction and improving business environment.
  • Studies and economic reporting to encourage data-driven decision-making.


  • Area Marketers & Facilitators
  • Hosting and organizing neighbourhood festivals and events.
  • Promotion of the BIA as a business, employment, tourism and shopping area or destination (business directories, social media, local media and advertising).
  • Encouraging activations by businesses, groups & organizations to create a vibrant ‘sense of place’.


  • Policy & Partner Influencers
  • Safety, security and community wellness initiatives.
  • Using good governance and following best practices.
  • Building partnerships with other business and community organizations.
  • Advocacy on behalf of their membership as a unified voice.



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