Celebrating 50 Years of BIAs!

Fifty years ago today, the first Business Improvement Area was created in Toronto. Sparks Street alongside our colleagues at The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association are proud to celebrate work of the BIAs that have since been formed in Ontario, Canada and beyond.


Today Ontario BIAs represents more than 100,000 businesses, 271 municipalities in 115 cities!


For 50 years, BIAs have been pivotal in main street community revitalization. On September 16, 1970, Bloor West Village BIA in Toronto became the first BIA in the world when Ontario’s Municipal Act was amended to include the enabling legislation. There are now more than 300 BIAs in Ontario, a growing list. Across Canada there are 500 BIAs (or their equivalent) and the idea has also spread worldwide, with BIAs (or their equivalents) in more than 10 countries around the world, such as US, UK, Scotland, Germany, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, China and India


A pivotal history began in Toronto:


In 1967, challenges were facing retailers as a proliferation of shopping malls were springing up on the outskirts of the city. As a result, some merchants were forced to close their shops or even in some instances, follow the crowds to the malls. Vacancies resulted and many local shopping areas began to look run down and seemed doomed to oblivion.

Out of sheer frustration, a group of businessmen including Alex Ling a true visionary in the west end of Toronto, along Bloor Street West, went to City Hall and the Province seeking legislation that would compel all businesses within a designated area to pay a levy for the purpose of revitalizing their business strip through physical improvements and promotional activities. The levy would be collected by the City and turned over to the elected Board of Management to be used as needed. After some persuasion, the idea was finally adopted and the Business Improvement Area (BIA) legislation was enacted and became Section 204-217 of the Municipal Act. Bloor West Village became the pioneer of the BIA concept and was designated as the first BIA in 1970!


Currently there are more than 300 BIAs in the province of Ontario. The model is used across Canada and throughout The United States and abroad. Businesses, governments, and community members believe in the concept and have seen the successes in the model of “Main Street“ communities everywhere.


Municipal Act Designation of improvement area 204

A local municipality may designate an area as an improvement area and may establish a board of management,

(a) to oversee the improvement, beautification and maintenance of municipally-owned land, buildings and structures in the area beyond that provided at the expense of the municipality generally; and

(b) to promote the area as a business or shopping area. 2001, c. 25, s. 204 (1).


YOUR Downtowns:

  • Represent sustainable development, making the best use of our existing infrastructure and creating compact communities that encourage walking, cycling and transit use

  • Have historic connections to the origins of the community

  • Have symbolic significance as the centre of civic life

  • Are a central hub for festivals and celebrations

  • Reflect a positive image of the entire city

  • Provide opportunities for local and incubator businesses

  • Offer an experience not found in new malls, plazas

BIAs by the numbers:

  • Legislation first created in 1970

  • First BIA in the world – Bloor West Village

  • Currently about 310+ BIAs in Ontario

  • 19 in Ottawa

  • More than 70% of Ontario’s BIAs are members of OBIAA

  • BIAs represent over 100,000 Businesses and 17,600 property owners

  • Accumulated Levy of Ontario’s BIAs – more than $55M

  • Employment by BIAs is over 150 part-time staff and 200 full-time staff


OBIAA is the network that represents unique and vibrant BIAs across Ontario. The Association supports and advocates on behalf of its members through the building and nurturing of strong relationships and partnerships.


OBIAA is a leader in the development and sharing of information, tools, resources and best practices, and is the ONE voice on common issues.


Sparks Street thanks all our colleagues and collaborators at OBIAA




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100 Sparks Street, Suite 200 

Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5B7

613-230-0984