BIAs want to recapture closer ties with city

By Katherine Harding

Ottawa’s Business Improvement Associations want city officials to start taking care of business.

Traditionally, the two have successfully operated at arms length, but now the BIAs are lobbying Mayor Bob Chiarelli to revive a full-time liaison position. The job existed in the old City of Ottawa but was axed a few years ago during budget cuts.

Right now, each association has a city-appointed representative on its management board. Coun. Elisabeth Arnold sits on all five of Centretown’s BIAs, including Sparks Street, Somerset Village, Somerset Heights, Bank Street and Preston Street.

The stewardship was legislated by the province because the city collects a property tax levy from each business in a BIA’s territory and gives the money to the board of the BIA to spend.

Council also has to approve their annual budgets. Bank Street’s BIA has the biggest budget at $450,000, while Somerset Village operates on about $10,000 a year.

“Hopefully, council will get to this issue. The liaison is an excellent position because they act as a constant point person for the associations,” says Arnold. The full-time liaison would deal with administrative issues, while the councillor would still act as a link between the BIA and the community.

“Now that the city is looking after more BIAs, we need one again,” says Peter Harris, Preston Street BIA’s part-time executive director.

Harris may also have other motives. Last month, Preston BIA’s 10-member board asked city council to replace Arnold with Kitchissippi ward’s Coun. Shawn Little. Council voted down their request. More than 100 members belong to Preston Street’s BIA.

The board’s unanimous recommendation was rooted in the desire to find someone more pro-business, says Harris. “It’s widely known that she (Arnold) is an anti-business councillor and very left wing,” he says. “We just wish it could be our decision. It’s not the taxpayers’ money, it’s our members’ money.”

Arnold says she’s always been willing to work with all the groups in her ward and now wants to put the row with Preston behind her. “It’s not productive to dwell on it.”

Preston’s budget this year is slated to be around $200,000. Three-quarters of that is earmarked to help pay for an archway being built at Carling and Preston streets this year. The BIA wants it to serve as a grand entrance to the district, and will feature two granite columns imported from Italy.

Centretown’s other BIAs report having a good working relationship with Arnold.

“In a city where every decision is political, it’s not only an asset but imperative to have a councillor on our board,” says Gerry LePage, full-time executive director of Bank St BIA. The association represents 550 members.

“Her constituency is the greater community and ours is our business members but there is an interdependency at work,” he says. “The larger community always has to be factored into our decisions. They aren’t mutually exclusive.”

LePage says Arnold helps the association’s seven-member board get information about the city and gauge the mood of city council on certain issues.

Somerset Village BIA’s volunteer chairman, Edgar Mitchell, agrees Arnold’s role is important for lobbying purposes. The association represents 45 members and 15 property owners.

“We’re grossly overtaxed. We tell her every time we see her. Most of our buildings are designated heritage sites, so there’s not a lot we can do with them. We feel like we’ve been penalized for upgrading the area.”

But Mitchell adds the entire city council should remember Centretown’s BIAs when they’re dishing out money or resources.

“We don’t feel like we have the ears of the all politicians. If something happens downtown, it’s usually near Parliament or the canal. We want attention.”