By Stefano Grande
This past fall, several Winnipeg BIZ groups and business members attended the annual International Downtown Association World Congress in the big apple. One of the many conference highlights included a keynote address from New York’s just retired mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Mayor Bloomberg spoke to the success of public/private partnerships that have been formed to create Business Improvement Associations/Districts in the United States and how these groups play a significant role in cities’ social and economic growth. Bloomberg also stressed the importance of empowering these business improvement districts and stepping out of the way so they can get the job of revitalization done.
Put resources to work
While cities across North America struggle to maintain neighbourhood services, Bloomberg, with the support of the business improvement districts, has capitalized on the city’s capacity to mobilize a greater supply of resources – with an empowered community and increased partnerships to help achieve economic development goals.
Business Improvement Zones (BIZs) in Winnipeg are a mix of city-mandated and voluntarily formed business organizations. Collectively, as a BIZ zone, businesses can achieve more than they could individually to benefit their market area. Business owners in these improvement districts themselves determine the level of taxes they will pay and commit to support enhanced street cleanup, graffiti removal services, security services, marketing and promotion of local businesses, holiday lighting, economic development initiatives, beautification and landscaping, and more.
The enhanced services these taxes bring to the community are essential to ensure small businesses and the neighbourhoods in which they operate are given every opportunity to succeed. More and more local residents have come to appreciate the role of the enhanced services provided by BIZs in creating a better urban environment.
In our city, 16 BIZs perform these services – sometimes above and beyond standard city services. Regardless of the BIZs’ size, there are many volunteers who are helping to improve our city. Similar to New York’s partnership with business improvement districts, many Winnipeg BIZ groups have partnered with the city to better serve both the business community and our residents and visitors.
For example, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ created a program in 2006 that helped intoxicated people on the street find appropriate support services, helping to improve the safety and well-being of all concerned. The West End and Exchange BIZs developed a coalition supported by the city that ensures graffiti removal in nine BIZ zones, together improving our city’s image beyond BIZ borders. Other BIZ zones share resources and work together to maximize benefits; these are examples of the types of partnerships our 16 BIZ zones embrace.
The Winnipeg BIZ Association, comprised of these 16 BIZs who represent thousands of Winnipeg businesses, remains committed to beautifying and enhancing our communities for a vibrant and socially prosperous city.
Most recently, Mayor Bloomberg launched a new business improvement district, the SoHo BID, which marked New York’s 68th such district, and the 24th created under his administration. In his own words, Mayor Bloomberg believes the “SoHo BID will serve retail establishments along Broadway between Houston and Canal Streets and will work to promote and support the artistic, architectural, cultural, and historical landmarks that contribute to the identity and character of the district and the SoHo community at large.”
New York’s former mayor gets it – that it takes many different partners and agencies working in concert to make change happen.
Let’s increase our effort
There are lessons to be learned from Bloomberg, as well as from the things we ourselves have achieved at home. As Winnipeg struggles to deliver the ever-increasing variety of services demanded by our communities, the BIZs can play a role by working with the city to improve our neighbourhoods. It is time to ramp up the capacity and role of BIZs in Winnipeg and form stronger public/private partnerships across the entire city.
Stefano Grande is executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.