Elgin Street businesses call for BIA

As construction and road closures are set to begin on Elgin Street, many people are asking if the street’s business owners are finally going to unite to fight for their best interests.

Most commercial districts in Ottawa are already represented by organizations known as Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). These are groups comprised of business owners to advocate for and promote their local businesses.

Elgin St. is one of the only areas in Ottawa that does not yet have a BIA.

Once a district establishes a BIA, the city collects taxes for the BIA through a levy that is part of the annual Property Tax Bill.

“The City then holds this money separate for the BIA to spend as the year progresses. The City’s Finance Department provides financial services for the BIA, including accounting, reporting etc. with no fee charged to the BIA. BIAs are also eligible to apply to the City for several other grants other grants including a grant to assist with graffiti removal, a grant for parking initiatives, a grant to assist with market research and soon, grants to assist façade improvements and development of murals,” explains the city’s Economic Development Officer, Chris Cope.

Keith Loiselle, owner of Woody’s Elgin Street Urban Pub is spearheading a steering committee to organize a BIA. He says there are many important reasons that inspired him to organize a BIA.

Loiselle says his main motivation for a BIA on Elgin St. is that the street does not get the promotion that other recognized commercial areas do.

“For example, there’s these little booklets you get as a tourist and within three pages it says neighbourhoods to hang out in,” says Loiselle. “It doesn’t mention Elgin Street at all.”

Loiselle says this is causing Elgin St.’s businesses to lose potential revenue from tourist traffic.

“They’ll get in a cab and tell the cab to turn right to the market as opposed to left to Elgin because all the documentation they have right down to the maps…doesn’t even list us,” Loiselle explains. He says having a recognized BIA would help put Elgin St. on the map.

The approaching construction is also helping Loiselle sell the idea of a BIA to anxious business owners.

Jim Sherman, owner of Perfect Books on Elgin St., says concerns about the road construction are making people pay more attention to formally organizing a BIA.

“I guess there just hasn’t been a burning need for one, now there is,” Sherman says.

Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes says because Elgin St. is scheduled to undergo reconstruction in 2014, it is time for businesses to take the initiative to develop a BIA.

“It really helps to have the businesses coordinated so that they can give direction to our city staff on work that needs to be done regarding the reconstruction,” she says.

Past attempts to start a BIA on Elgin St. have failed and Loiselle says this is partially because there are many business owners on Elgin St. who also own property and rent it out. He says they are earning enough revenue both from business and from rent, so many of them do not feel a BIA is needed.

Holmes says the idea for a BIA has not caught on, largely because people do not understand what it is. She says business owners view BIAs as just an extra fee, which they don’t want to pay.

Loiselle agrees it is a problem that people just view the BIA as another bill they have to pay. He has been meeting with businesses in the area and is in the process of creating literature about BIAs to show Elgin St. store and restaurant owners the benefits of having a formal representative organization.

The City has provided Loiselle and his steering committee with a $5,000 grant to help form a BIA.

“Although the main purpose of the grant is to help the business group do the required research to gauge the level of interest, the process also ensures that businesses in the proposed area are fully aware of the plans for a BIA,” explains Cope.

Loiselle says he is using the grant to help create material to educate businesses about the BIA in hope that they choose to support it.

If Loiselle and his steering committee gain the support of local businesses, city council must then pass a by-law to officially form the BIA.

Whether this can all happen before the construction begins is still unclear.