Elgin St. businesses push for BIA

By Mike Hinds

A group of Elgin Street businesses is pushing to establish a business improvement association (BIA) to deal with a number of issues involving the street, including late-night noise, a lack of parking and garbage.

“We’re the only major downtown business area that does not have a BIA,” says Alfred Friedman, part owner of three Elgin restaurants involved in the effort. “We should have had this started a number of years ago.”

Friedman says that he and the other people involved hope to call a meeting within the next couple of months to discuss the idea of a BIA with other businesses on Elgin Street. Those involved include Mark Monahan, a part-owner of two restaurants on Elgin, and Adam Falardeau, general manager at Maxwell’s Bistro and Club, also located on Elgin and part-owned by Friedman.

Falardeau was to meet with an official from the city last week to discuss what is needed to set up a BIA. Elisabeth Arnold, councillor for Somerset Ward, which includes Elgin Street, says it is at least a six-month process to start a BIA. Levies imposed on BIA members can vary widely, Arnold says, and are based on the amount of space the business occupies on the street and not on revenue. Arnold also notes that once the decision to form a BIA is reached, all businesses on the street become members – even those who were opposed.

“Some business people feel they can do just as well without an organization. They feel this is just another tax,” says Arnold. “The benefits are the greatest to the smaller local business people because they don’t have access to those larger corporate budgets” that BIAs can provide.

The response from businesses on the street has been mixed.

“I think certainly something that allows us to work together as a group always helps,” says Pat Caven, general manager at Perfect Books on Elgin near Somerset Street. “The neighbourhood is hopping at 2:30 in the morning, so I can understand why people are upset,” she adds.

The issue of noise was one of many concerns raised at a recent meeting between community members and police.

Some are skeptical of the need for a BIA.

“A lot of people seem really pleased with the way the street is now,” says Bill Kinsman, owner of the Elgin Street Video Station, located next door to Perfect Books.

His store has been on Elgin – in two different locations – for 20 years.

“The architectural mix is good, the people mix is good, the business mix is good,” he says. “I don’t think people who say (that there isn’t a big mix of businesses) have walked the street and seen how many clothing stores there are, video stores, travel stores, book stores.”

But, Kinsman adds, “there’s always room for improvement, anything that makes the street more relaxed and safer.”

Kate Fildes, general manager of the Elgin Street Diner, says her support rests on knowing more about what shape a BIA would take.

“We’d have to see what the mandate would be, what it would cost,” says Fildes.

“We’d have to be able to weigh the positives and negatives.”