Source: White Rock BIA
Birth of the BIA
The story begins in 1967 when the Bloor-Danforth subway line was completed and many shoppers who formerly traveled along the surface on Bloor Street in streetcars began disappearing underground.
To add to the problems facing neighbourhood retailers, a proliferation of shopping malls had sprung up on the outskirts of the city around the same time. These merchandising meccas offered enticing shops with a wondrous array of products and services all under the same roof, year-round climate-control and acres of free parking. This literally led thousands of shoppers to forsake their traditional shopping habits, pile into their cars and motor out to the malls.
As a result, some merchants were forced to close their shops and, 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.
Many business people who remained in their business strips reacted by attempting to form business associations – and spent a great deal of their time and effort going from door-to-door soliciting voluntary donations for local improvements and area promotions. One problem they often encountered was that only a few businesses in each block were willing to contribute. These associations frequently found themselves with insufficient funds and support to make any difference.
Out of sheer frustration, a group of businessmen 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 budgeted. After some persuasion, the idea was finally adopted and the Business Improvement Area (BIA) legislation was enacted, and became Section 217 of the Municipal Act. Bloor West Village became the pioneer of the BIA concept and was designated as the first BIA in 1970!
Where it Began…
In 1970, during the beginning of the BIA, there were only 275 merchants, professionals and services along both sites of Bloor Street West, between South Kingsway to the west and Glendonwynne Road to the east, one kilometre long. Besides the numerous vacant stores, there was a used car lot taking up the whole block on the north side of Bloor Street, between Glendonwynne Road and Kennedy Avenue, bare light bulbs were strung across the entire block. On the south side of the street, there were six gasoline stations. At Bloor and Jane, there was the abandoned streetcar turn-around, end of the streetcar line, empty and dirty.
For the first year, the Bloor West Village BIA members voted themselves a budget of $47,500. and the money was spent mostly on physical improvements. The transformation was dramatic. The lighted trees sparkled, there were colourful flower boxes and the benches made shopping inviting.
With the continuation of the beautification program and the added area promotions over the years, the shoppers began to flock back to Bloor West Village. A used car lot and gasoline stations have been redeveloped into retail stores with residential and office units above. A medical complex was built on the site of an abandoned streetcar turn-around at Bloor and Jane. A number of other building developments and restorations followed, making Bloor West Village vibrant and a safe environment to live, work, shop and raise a family.
The success of Bloor West Village encouraged other communities. Now Toronto has 75 BIAs and the number continues to grow. Vancouver has 22 BIAs and rising as we speak. There are currently 63 BIAs in British Columbia.
And who is Alex Ling?
Alex Ling (Alexander Edward Ling) and his wife Helen moved to the Bloor West Village in Toronto in 1971. They thought that they wouldn’t be so busy; however that was not the case. Alex became involved in the BIA right away. He was first elected as Chairperson in 1979 and worked very hard for the Bloor West Village BIA and the neighbourhood.
In the early 1980’s, with the help of City Hall, he started the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) to give support to all BIAs in the City of Toronto. Alex eats and sleeps the BIA philosophy. He loves the work and the challenge of the job. He was TABIA’s President for 19 years and in 2001 he finally engineered himself to Past President. In 2004 Alex became Chairman of the Bloor West Village BIA by promising to continue to help out, staying on as a board member.
Alex is now Past Chair and he is just as busy as ever. He is also the pioneer and the driving force behind the Solar Powered Conversion of the Tree Lighting and Gas Lanterns in Bloor West Village. They have since retired 45 hydro meters from the Tree Lighting Program – no more hydro bills, and no more burning of fossil fuel from the Gas Lanterns! They will soon have a total of 60 Solar Powered Gas-style Lanterns in the Village.
Alex is constantly championing and working for the cause of small business. He was instrumental in acquiring a lower discount rate for Merchant VISA and Mastercard for his members. He has worked with a number of insurance companies on group insurance for small business, as well as natural gas rebates for business and residents.