Sidney’s commercial core will be promoted by a new business improvement association that got a green light from council this week.
The Sidney Business Improvement Association will raise $1.25 million in the next five years to promote the town’s businesses, culture and special events. BIAs were earlier established in Victoria, Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay Village.
“We want to remain competitive. We’ve had challenges with store vacancies increasing and new business not coming in at the same rate as more prosperous times,” said Cliff McNeil-Smith, chairman of the Sidney Business Development Group that spearheaded the BIA campaign.
“We really want to — bottom line — bring more footsteps into the community,” he said Wednesday.
McNeil-Smith points to the changing retail landscape. Existing shopping centres are being expanded. American retailing powerhouses such as Target are moving in. Uptown recently unrolled major fashion retailers. And new shopping centres have been pitched for the Patricia Bay Highway and at the old Sandown horse racing track.
A BIA feasibility study, paid for by the town, cites the economic recession and slow recovery, a stagnant tourism sector and lower sales and fewer patrons for Sidney businesses.
The BIA’s goal is to foster a “more robust community,” said McNeil-Smith, the owner of Tanner’s Books. The BIA will work with other organizations, event planners and nearby tourist attractions and businesses. A job posting for a part-time BIA manager is going up on the website www.sidneybiz.com.
Sidney council is required by legislation to vote on a proposed BIA. The final vote on the bylaw took place Monday after a 30-day waiting period to hear any opposition from property owners.
Of the 321 eligible commercial properties within the BIA boundary, 29.9 per cent were opposed, meeting minutes state. The total assessed value of commercial properties is $239.9 million. Of that, owners holding 38.8 per cent were opposed.
McNeil-Smith estimated that out-of-town owners made up the majority of those opposed.
The BIA’s budget calls for a levy of $1.06 per $1,000 of assessed value. That figure may be refined slightly, but will be roughly the same, McNeil-Smith said.
This year, a total of $250,000 will be raised through the property-tax levy, followed by annual increases to 2017 when it will reach $275,952. The BIA bylaw runs for five years.
Half of this year’s amount will be advanced shortly to the new BIA to allow it to start operating prior to July’s tax collection by the municipality.
Sidney Mayor Larry Cross said the BIA will “help tell our story through marketing.”
A thriving downtown is critical to a healthy community, he said.
In 2009, Sidney’s business community differed on whether a BIA would be an effective way to market the town. At that time, a higher levy was discussed.
Angus Matthews, who heads the non-profit Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and is a key BIA backer, said this time the business- development group spoke with local merchants and urged them to tell landlords that they supported a BIA and realized there would be additional costs. It is common for tenants to pay all or part of the property taxes in triple-net agreements.
“That’s what made the big difference.”
Matthews said Sidney is a friendly community, with many of its 380 businesses operated by owners. It is a perfect “un-mall,” he said.
The B.C. BIA’s website says there are 58 such organizations in the province, representing 60,000 businesses holding more than $16.5 billion in land value. Their combined budgets top $10 million.
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