Key steps in establishing a traditional Business Improvement Area

The request to designate an area as a BIA usually originates with the local business community affected and is developed in consultation with municipal staff. A request to the municipal council to designate an area identifies the need for a BIA and sets out the boundaries for the proposed area. Some customary important steps in establishing a BIA are outlined below:

NOTE: Chapter 19 of the Toronto Municipal Code (Business Improvement Areas) includes provisions about establishing a BIA.

Key steps in establishing a BIA
Step 1: Establish the need – Business case
Step 2: Communicate with all Interested parties
Step 3: Establish a Steering Committee
Step 4: Establish goals and objectives
Step 5: Prepare preliminary budget Proposals
Step 6: Establish proposed boundaries
Step 7: Formalize a request to the municipality
Step 8: Notification of a proposed BIA designation
Step 9: Pass a municipal bylaw

Step 1: Establish the need – Business case

The first step in establishing a BIA is to determine the need. Those interested in pursuing the BIA option may wish to start by identifying the existing problems and needs of the area to determine if creating a BIA is an appropriate solution.  They may also wish to consider local particulars, such as whether the proposed BIA is a traditional one, and possible differences in local bylaws (e.g. any differences for the City of Toronto).

Among the factors that might be considered are:

  • economic environment and public perception of the area
  • municipal policy and infrastructure affecting the area
  • function and physical appearance of the area
  • marketing and promoting the area
  • sustainable economic growth

Examining the need for a BIA may not require detailed research, surveys or statistical analysis. All that may be required is a plan for the area which takes into account the local needs.

Determining and identifying priorities of the proposed BIA area will help provide a greater awareness and understanding of existing problems and concerns. Conclusions derived from this examination can help generate interest and support for the proposed BIA. It will also be important for the organizers to know, in general terms, how much the addressing of problems and concerns will cost and determine a rough idea of how much of a levy total would be needed.

After completing the examination, the local business group can better determine area needs and whether it sees the creation of a BIA as an appropriate vehicle to meet these needs. If it thinks the BIA is an appropriate vehicle, the group may wish to proceed with the request for a BIA designation. However, it may be imperative for the local business group to realize that need is not enough. Commitment and leadership are essential considerations for the establishment and success of a BIA.


A commitment from businesses and property owners in the area is another essential consideration for the success of a BIA. Council and other community business groups may be interested in transforming the area but it is the business people, landlords and tenants in the area who have the greatest interest in the success of the proposed BIA. The onus is therefore on those with the greatest interest in developing the area to devote necessary time and resources to ensure the success of the BIA.

Participants may wish to be aware from the outset that renewal and maintenance will probably require more than physical improvements. Economic stimulus may also be important. New marketing strategies and merchandising techniques may be needed to attract people to the area.


Successful development is more likely with the involvement and support of many groups – council, municipal staff, the business community, property owners and the general public. Strong and effective leadership can help ensure that the interests and needs of all of these groups are met and that their efforts are coordinated and focused upon the common goal of the economic development of the local community.

Potential leaders are generally easily identified. Often they are the individuals who initiated the program. Local members of council or chamber of commerce are often obvious choices. However, it must be remembered that some individuals may already have commitments within the wider community, and individuals with a commitment only to the BIA may be more beneficial for the long-run.

Step 2: Communicate with all Interested parties

Those leading the BIA initiative may wish to launch an extensive information campaign throughout the area within which the BIA would be formed. The information campaigns often inform the property owners and tenants that a BIA is being considered, and focus on highlighting the potential benefits that can be provided by a BIA.

Important considerations when communicating with interested parties may include:

  • holding area meetings to present the BIA concept and to answer questions
  • proposing ideas for beautification and promotion in order to receive feedback from potential members
  • letting potential members know that their opinions are important and that a BIA will only be established with their input
  • distributing newsletters to ask for opinions and ideas
  • inviting speakers from neighbouring communities with a BIA to discuss their experiences
  • working to ensure that all interest groups are involved, including municipal council and staff, in order to maximize input and feedback
  • identifying block ‘champions’ to provide information to businesses in sections of the proposed BIA and to solicit opinions

Feedback is often important when preparing preliminary budget proposals. Once proposals are prepared, potential members may be provided with an estimate of the amount of the levy that they will be assessed.

It can be important to ensure that communication does not end when the BIA is established. In fact, BIAs often find there is a need to increase communication among members after the BIA is established.

Step 3: Establish a steering committee

If the decision to pursue the BIA option is made, as an organizational matter, establishing a steering committee may be considered. (The practice in Toronto is to always have a steering committee for new BIAs with specific functions.) Generally, the steering committee could include leaders in the local business community and the local council member.

The steering committee may wish to hold informal sessions with area businesses and property owners before any formal public information meeting is held, in order to help confirm the proposed BIA boundaries, provide clarification and confirm preliminary interest in taking the next steps to establish a new BIA.

It is often a best practice to ensure that the steering committee has representation from all sections of the proposed BIA. For example, there could be representation not only from retail merchants, but also from professional offices and industrial properties - particularly those of the latter who represent a large percentage of the overall assessment of the area.

A steering committee of this kind could have several roles, including:

  • establishing a set of preliminary goals and objectives
  • establishing proposed boundaries
  • preparing preliminary budget proposals
  • communicating the proposals to all interested parties
  • formalizing a request to the municipality

Step 4: Establish goals and objectives

The steering committee may determine proposed goals and objectives of the BIA and related revitalization, maintenance and area development campaigns. These proposals can be used as a basis for discussion, often focused on providing the right mix of retail and services, physical improvements and economic development that will attract customers and improve community ambiance.

Step 5: prepare preliminary budget proposals

Prioritizing goals and objectives informs budgeting decisions. Usually, a specific amount is budgeted for each priority.

Budgets are best if they are flexible and realistic. A well thought out budget will meet the needs of all types of businesses and property owners and also address questions that may arise. Members may wish to include a range of budgetary estimates that would include “luxury,” “mid-range” and “compact” options.

A preliminary budget may also provide a rough guide to the amount of levy that each business property class or owner will have to pay.

Step 6: Establish proposed boundaries

It may be important that the majority of the business and property owners within the proposed area support the designation of the area as a BIA. A consideration is balancing this with the need to define an area that is easily identifiable and in which activities can be managed.

In many cases, BIA boundaries are decided and based on the physical and/or historical characteristics of the area. For example, a river or a bridge may serve as a natural boundary, or older buildings may form a historical boundary. In addition, many shopping districts are easily recognizable and form the basis for BIA boundaries. Municipal staff input could help in determining boundaries.

Step 7: Formalize a request to the municipality

Once informal meetings have established general interest, steering committees or organizers may wish to consider more formal public meetings (including contacting all commercial and industrial owners and tenants).

If there appears to be sufficient support and enthusiasm for the BIA among proposed members, a formal request to the municipality for designating the proposed BIA is the customary next step. Requests typically are made in writing and include a final proposal with respect to boundaries, a proposed plan and a preliminary budget. Requests also indicate the level of support for the BIA among potential members, along with details on how information was provided to potential members.

Once a formal request has been made to the municipal council to establish a BIA, traditionally the council would follow an established process and rules, before it passed a bylaw to designate the proposed area as a BIA.

Step 8: Notification of a proposed BIA designation

In the traditional BIA establishment process, before passing a bylaw to establish a BIA, a municipality would mail out notices of the proposed bylaw. Generally, for a new BIA, the notices would go to assessed prescribed business property owners in the proposed area (i.e., owners of property classed as industrial or commercial). Property owners who receive a notice would give their tenants a copy of the notice within 30 days of the day it was mailed. Those owners would also give the clerk of the municipality a list of every tenant and the share of taxes that each tenant and owner is required to pay.

It may be important to discuss the benefits and costs of the proposed BIA with the business people in the affected area prior to establishing BIA boundaries and sending out notices. Public meetings can be used to answer questions and address concerns. Discussions and public meetings often continue throughout the notice period.

Step 9: Pass a municipal bylaw

A municipality may decide to pass a bylaw establishing a BIA. Relevant considerations may include, among others, whether notice periods have ended, and whether there have been any objections to the bylaw.

For more information concerning the above topics, sections 204-215 of the Municipal Act, 2001 may be among those of interest (particularly the sections concerning creating or changing BIAs, and section 210 which deals with procedures). Other legislation (e.g., the City of Toronto Act, 2006), regulations and local bylaws may also be reviewed.