BIA could ward off the economic doldrums

Business vacancies rise to 40 in downtown Sidney - proponents say a BIA might be able to help

Sidney Downtown Business Group chair Cliff McNeil-Smith (far right) speaks with Natasha Crawford of Browns the Florist and Steve Duck of the SBDG during the last of three open houses on the proposed BIA.

Ask the proponents of a business improvement area marketing levy in Sidney, and they’ll tell you they are seeing support grow for their idea — one they think will help the downtown core avoid economic doldrums.

A series of three open houses at the Mary Winspear Centre and the Sidney Pier Hotel garnered more signatures of support — or at least positive interest — for the efforts of the Sidney Business Development Group to get a BIA in place.

Chair of the SBDG, Cliff McNeil-Smith says they saw more than 100 individual business and property owners and general residents attend the open houses.

“We’re pleased to report that on our survey form, all business checked ‘yes’ to support the proposal or they want to consider it further,” he said. “Not a single attendee checked ‘no’ to not support.”

He said there are 50 to 60 specific supporters from local business — a number he would like to see grow.

That’s considered very positive in a community where past BIA proposals have been met with disdain and rejection. This time, McNeil-Smith said they are meeting with as many owners, managers and business groups as they can to win support.

“This is about creating a strong marketing program to benefit business,” he explained. “There are around 380 businesses in the proposed coverage area.”

Of those, McNeil-Smith added that there are currently 40 vacant properties, due to business closures — something he said does not bode well for Sidney.

“That’s the highest (number of vacant stores) that anyone seems to be able to remember. This is an economic situation that we have to try and fix right away.”

He said he is hearing one of the reasons businesses have closed is that their rents are too high and their revenues have not kept pace. One of the ways a BIA can help, he explained, would be to help generate more specific customers to the area — from local shoppers to day-trippers from around the Island. In that way, owners would have a more consistent opportunity to reap the benefits from that marketing.

Convincing people of the benefit is the main challenge. Up front is the BIA’s proposed levy of $1.22 per $1,000 of assessed value of commercial properties. By example, a business valued at $1 million would pay $1,220 per year.

Should the BIA proceed (and it would ultimately be up to Sidney town council to approve and act as collector), McNeil-Smith said its members would generate $250,000, the lion’s share of a proposed budget of $317,000. The SBDG is hoping for an additional $67,000 in partnerships and associate memberships.

Most of that money ($185,000) is for marketing campaigns.

McNeil-Smith said the group is proposing that the BIA levy increase 2.5 per cent each year after the first (2013). That, however, would be a decision resting with the BIA’s voting members — which is anyone who signs on.

Over the next two to three weeks, the SBDG will continue to meet with business and property owners. They will generate a final report and recommendations to present to town council in late November.

Find out more about the BIA proposal at www.sidneybiz.com.

 

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