Contributed by Rick Matthews, Executive Director at Cabbagetown BIA – If you ask people in Cabbagetown what a BIA is or what a ‘Business Improvement Area’ does exactly, you’re certain to get a lot of different answers. Local businesses and commercial property owners are sure to know, but those folks who we don’t directly support? Less likely perhaps.
Officially stated, a BIA is an association made up of commercial property owners and businesses who work in partnership with the city to create a thriving, competitive, and safe business area that attracts shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses.
How do we do that exactly? First, we’re responsible for things like street and sidewalk beautification. So the hanging flower baskets and holiday decorations you see? We’re responsible for those. We also remove and paint over graffiti and, on the inverse, apply for grants and permits to have public art and murals installed in our community.
A few other key things we do, include: marketing and digital promotion and support of the community, liaising with Toronto Police to address safety and security issues, fostering strategic partnerships, and troubleshooting issues that arise daily.
And you’ll often see Dale, who’s worked for the BIA for over 20 years, out on the streets many times a week to pick up litter to keep our streets looking their best.
That’s what we do on the day to day. In the long term we’re working on key projects like the creation of a streetscape master plan, which will include lasting capital improvements that will vastly transform the look of our business community.
This year we sadly had to cancel the popular Cabbagetown Festival, which we plan, because of the pandemic, but in its place we created an elevated CafeTO experience that featured a curbside park, coordinated patios, umbrellas and an outdoor walking art tour that featured works by a diverse group of local artists. It was an unexpected and interesting opportunity to try something new and to animate our streets in a new way. We’ve also got some new things we’re planning for the holiday too, and look forward to sharing those details soon. In an especially trying year we want to do everything we can to keep Cabbagetown merry and bright.
As a BIA, we also act as a unified voice to address and highlight key issues with all three levels of government on behalf of our membership.
This year, as you might imagine, that was more important than ever, as businesses felt the direct financial impact of the pandemic. From the ‘Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy’ (CEWS) to the ‘Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance’ (CECRA), we were advocates for support for the small business community when they need it most.
In fact, the vast challenges that COVID-19 has created for our local business community is actually what motivated me to accept the role as Director of the BIA. As a long time Cabbagetown resident I’ve seen first hand how a thriving main street becomes the heart of a neighbourhood, creating a profound effect on the surrounding area and acting as an economic and social anchor. When the opportunity to give back through the BIA was in front of me, I felt compelled to use my business and marketing acumen to add diverse and meaningful value to our community. Working with our local business owners these past few months has shown me the resiliency of our community and has reinforced what I know about Cabbagetown’s spirit; it’s hopeful, heartfelt and unwavering.
I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far, and I know we will continue to get through this together.