Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) - powerful partnerships for local places with national implications.
Written by: Andrew Hammonds
Thanks to Main Street Australia
According to the SMH, high profile Balmain locals are working together to halt the demise of the Darling Street strip. They are reacting to vacant shopfronts, declining footfall and few business newcomers. While Leichhardt council has attempted to draw shoppers (with limited free parking and spending $500,000 on initiatives to boost local business last year alone) leaders of a new lobbying effort – the Peninsula Partnership – say more permanent solutions are needed.
This type of local and coordinated action is being formalised nationally and internationally through Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) as promoted in The Power Booklet, published by Mainstreet Australia. Potentially addressing the combined pressures of on-line shopping, mega malls, an ageing demographic and high rents affecting hundreds of declining high streets across Australia.
Let's start with the concept.
From an international perspective, a BID is a legal mechanism for property owners and/or businesses in a defined geographical area or place. Critically, it provides sustainable funding for coordinated improvements. BIDs have been established in traditional or new main street centres from cities to regional and rural communities.
Gosford Business Improvement District Incorporated (GBID) was established in 2008 after consultation with the business community. A special levy is collected from commercial property owners to fund activities. GBID's core role is to:For example, the
- improve the city through events, festivals, city beautification works,
- ensure adequate security;
- encourage business retention; and
- new businesses to fill vacant premises.
Main St Australia propose the following benefits from initiatives coordinated locally. For business:
- increased sales though coordinated marketing and promotional campaigns
- reduced costs through coordinated buying power
- increased influence through local and national advocacy
- increased patronage through business mix
For property owners:
- increased rental levels and capital growth and reduced vacancy
- hrough coordinated influence and advocacy
- decreased risks through independence from local government
- attraction of investment and development
- Coordinated engagement with the private sector
- Efficient use of existing infrastructure
- Enhanced delivery of policies
- Reduction in public sector funding
- Broader tax base by improving liveability and attracting residents
A range of activities and services
According to Main St Australia, BIDs can deliver programs over and above those provided by a local Council, including:
- Centre management and branding and marketing
- Business training and development
- Proactive strategies to improve the business mix
- Organisation of coordinated opening hours
- Activation of public spaces
- Safety and security in the centre
- Way finding signage
- Research on various aspects of a centre
- Monitoring and evaluation of activity
Sounds too good to be true?
There is a counter argument, as summarised by the Guardian. BIDs could be anti-democratic, part-privatising and unconcerned with the wishes of residents and smaller businesses, whose priorities for change in a neighbourhood might be different. I would add overlap with Council services and activities while rates remain stable or increase. However, I suspect these concerns can be addressed during foundation and operation.
What's your experience with BIDs? Positive or negative? Is there a case for national coordination of BID's - sharing resources and saving money?
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Written: 19 May, 2016
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