Sep 08, 2020 – Annie MacInnis, Calgary Herald

During this pandemic, we have all been reminded of the necessity, the value and the rewards of working for the common good of our community. In recent months, working for the benefit of all to protect our health and our economy have been the two critical tasks for all levels of government and all citizens.

Calgary’s 15 Business Improvement Areas have been an important partner in a collective federal, provincial, and municipal effort to try to save more businesses than we lose. BIAs are not as well-known as other business organizations, like chambers of commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for example, but BIAs play a significant role in the success of the Main Street outdoor shopping districts you know and love.

Photo of Annie MacInnis, ED of Kensington

Annie MacInnis is executive director of the Kensington Business Revitalization Zone

September marks the 50th anniversary of the first-ever BIA. This first BIA in the world was started in Toronto on Sept. 16, 1970, when Bloor Village West businesses got city council to agree to help them create an organization to help them mitigate the impact of subways and suburbs on small inner-city main streets. This model for how to help struggling business districts is so successful that there are now 500 BIAs in Canada and many more in countries as diverse as Ireland, South Africa, the U.K. and Israel.

The prolonged economic downturn in Calgary has demonstrated that as organizations we are especially well-suited to helping our members in crisis situations. BIAs are the canaries in the mines when it comes to economies. We are the eyes of the street for all levels of government.

A business located within a BIA has a better chance of surviving regardless of whether the crisis is a natural disaster that physically impacts a city, a disastrous economic downturn or a pandemic. Data (collected by the International Downtown Association) demonstrates that and shows that businesses will recover quicker than those businesses without a BIA to support them.

BIAs are easily identified. They organize free street festivals for Calgarians. BIAs are where tourists visit, where you go for first dates and holidays, for weekend brunches and unique shopping. They are the character, walkable, charming main streets you want to live close to and spend time in.

There are 15 BIAs in Calgary. Some have been around for decades. They include Kensington, Inglewood, 17th Avenue S.W., Bowness, 4th Street, Marda Loop, the Downtown Association, 17th Avenue S.E. (International Avenue) and Victoria Park. More recently formed BIAs include Chinatown, Montgomery, Thorncliffe-Greenview, Crescent Heights, Bridgeland and the Beltline.

Throughout this pandemic, Calgary BIAs and their executive directors have worked tirelessly not just on behalf of their member businesses and other BIAs but for all businesses. We have worked with the International Downtown Association Canada Chapter, writing letters to the federal government advocating for rent help, CERB, wage subsidies and other supports for small businesses. We have worked with Alberta BIAs writing letters to the federal and provincial governments advocating for rent relief, wage subsidies and reopening grants. We have worked with Calgary’s Business Sector Support Task Force advocating for shop local campaigns, pop-up patios and clarity on reopening. We have met weekly to identify how best to help our members sifting through the swirl of information, distilling the essence so our businesses can access help, helping then pivot to accommodate societal changes, helping them reopen and, every day, advocating fiercely and passionately on behalf of all businesses and their employees.

Now more than ever, we are hearing so very much about the importance of shopping local and supporting your favourite businesses at a time when many people are worried about their own family’s financial well-being. As we acknowledge this 50th anniversary of BIAs, let us also acknowledge the value BIA organizations make to the vitality and economic well-being of our cities.

Annie MacInnis is the executive director of the Kensington Business Improvement Area.

This article was published in the Calgary Herald here.

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