What is a BID?

People who are involved with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are often very casual about using “B.I.D” in regular conversation. But, to the majority of the world, the three letters are meaningless. So, what is a BID?

A BID is an area with specified geographic boundaries, that has been designated and created for the purposes of improvement, promotion and revitalization.

The BID is generally established through a democratic process or poll. If business and/or commercial property owners in the area vote to establish the Business Improvement District, they are also agreeing to fund the not-for-profit organization. Once established, all ‎businesses and/or property owners are generally required to pay the levy. In many districts, that levy is included with the annual property tax bill.

While this requirement to pay has caused some legal challenges in various locations, BID advocates point to the method of funding as a key reason for the success of the program. BIDs are not tasked with the burden of fund raising and therefore have the freedom to focus on local objectives and priorities, with a predetermined budget.

‎The BID is managed by business owners and/or property owners within the boundary. Usually the levy is collected by the municipality, on behalf of the BID, and returned to a member elected Board of management. The funds are then used for a number of potential services, events, activities and capital projects.

Around the world there are now thousands of BIDs. They are sometimes referred to with other names like Business Improvements Areas (BIAs) Busine‎ss Improvement Associations (BIAs), Business Revitalization Zones (BRZs), Community Improvement Districts (CID), Special Services Areas (SSA), Downtown Development Districts, Special Improvement Districts or Tourism Improvement Districts.

In various places in the world, BIDs are managed, controlled and organized differently. While the basic premise around funding and organizational structure is usually similar, details about government involvement, term limits and Board roles are commonly different.

In some places, BIDs are required to hold polls every five years to re-establish the BID. In other locations, the BIDs will continue indefinitely, or until there is a challenge to have the BID revoked. In those jurisdictions,  the process to eliminate a BID is a similar process to establishing one – involving public consultations and a formal vote of business and /or commercial property owners.

The First Business Improvement District was established in Toronto’s Bloor West Village in 1970. It was, and still is today, called a BIA.‎ Between Canada and the United States, there are more than 1500 established BIDs.

Hopefully the next time you hear the questiom, “What is a BID?” you’ll be able to provide a clearer answer.

London (England) New York (United States) and Toronto (Canada) are all major hubs for BIDs.

For more information on BIDS in specific regions, see below:

Business Improvement Areas of British Columbia
Ontario Business Improvement Area Association
Toronto Association of BIAs

Business Improvement Districts Scotland

United Kingdom
British BIDS

United States
DC BID Council
New York City BID Association

About Darryl Kaplan

Darryl Kaplan is a public speaker, author and advocate who believes that the BIG IDEA will save Main Street and create a new revolution in local living. An entrepreneur with a passion for small business and retail, Kaplan founded the Baby Point Gates Business Improvement Area in Toronto, and currently sits as its Chair. He was elected to the Executive Committee of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas - an organization that represents 81 BIAs and 35,000 small businesses. A multiple award winner in communications, magazine writing and editing, Kaplan has had hundreds of columns and editorials published nationally.

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