An $18,500 grant given by the Town of Sidney to the Sidney Business Development Group will never produce a ‘super business group’ to act as an umbrella organization, says their leadership.
They are leaving that role to the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and are working towards creating a business improvement area (BIA) in Sidney’s downtown core — a fact that some town councillors said might have changed their opinion on the initial grant.
“The Sidney Business Development Group is not trying to attain a super group,” said spokesperson Cliff McNeil-Smith at council’s Oct. 9 regular meeting. “Our focus is a BIA and helping other organizations co-exist.”
Councillor Steve Price said the SBDG’s proposal for the grant money did not say BIA specifically.
“I would have liked the group to have been clear,” he said, indicating the town might not have financed their effort had that been the case.
McNeil-Smith said the SBDG was clear and met with councillors individually and at public meetings, where they raised this information.
“A do-nothing strategy is not an option that the business community wants. The surveys, meetings and now a brochure … is that not a good use of this money?”
Price agreed more information to the public is a good thing, but said the SBDG told town staff on Sept. 17 that a BIA would be their preferred goal, meaning their minds were made up. He added he is concerned that the group is also trying to have the BIA bylaw process started in early 2013.
McNeil-Smith said the group is still in its research phase and will not be asking the town to create a BIA bylaw until it has significant support from the community. To that end, the SBDG is hosting three open houses on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Mary Winspear Centre and Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the Sidney Pier Hotel. The purpose of those sessions is to introduce the BIA concept, talk about where it would cover, how much it would cost and who benefits.
Past attempts at creating a BIA has been met with resistance, said Ross Mcafarlane, president of the Sidney Business Association. He attended the council meeting to air his group’s opposition to the process and question why town council funded it.
“Is there an intention of this council to bring forward a BIA?” he asked.
Acting mayor Melissa Hailey said no, the town has no such intention. Coun. Kenny Podmore added, however, they would look into it if a BIA was requested by a majority of business operators and commercial property owners. Podmore emphasized that this is not an initiative of council.
“However, council did fund it,” Macfarlane continued.
Town chief administrative officer Randy Humble said they have not received a BIA proposal yet. If one does come forward, he said it would follow the legislative process. That could include a counter-petition, requiring owners and tenants to vote against it if they are opposed to a BIA.
“The BIA is an initiative of the business community,” added Coun. Marilyn Loveless, “the idea was up to them and council’s role is to put it in place and collect the money on behalf of the business community.
“The need for a BIA remains to be seen.”
She added while a BIA is a step forward, what council wanted was a group that represents all business in Sidney.
The SDBG is promoting the idea of a BIA, and their website, www.sidneybiz.com, gives examples of business communities that use it to market themselves to the region. SBDG spokesperson Angus Matthews said they have the support of the chamber of commerce and Sidney Merchants Co-Op, but want to make sure they have the support of most business owners, property owners and their tenants. It will, he said, come with an added cost but with the potential to better market their members — and the community — to potential customers.
“If this is not viable, is there a plan B? Or is it just a BIA drive?” asked Price.
Matthews and McNeil-Smith both told council that if the BIA idea fails, the SDBG won’t be back.
“But we do hope for a better future for Sidney, from a marketing sense,” Matthews said.
The SBDG hosts three open houses this month.
• Tuesday, Oct. 23, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre
• Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the Sidney Pier Hotel from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and again from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
What’s a BIA?
The Sidney Business Development Group (SBDG) is proposing a business improvement area (BIA) that would encompass some 300 commercial properties in downtown Sidney. Enacted through a municipal bylaw and overseen by local government, a BIA creates a specific taxation area, where all business and property owners become voting members and direct their marketing and events efforts. The boundaries of the BIA can be expanded at later times if required.
According to a SBDG brochure out now:
• the proposed levy rate is $1.22 per $1,000 of assessed commercial value.
• the levy would be shared by all tenants in a commercial building.
• proposed budget is $317,000 (levy and partner memberships).
• proposed expenses of $317,000 include marketing (58 per cent), events promotion (11 per cent), resource centre (or administrative costs, 22 per cent), one-time start-up cost (seven per cent) and member relations (two per cent).
• learn more at www.sidneybiz.com.