St. Jacobs business owners in the downtown core are hopeful approval from Woolwich council next week will give them the go ahead to create their own business improvement area (BIA).
The idea was brought to council back in March and letters were sent to property owners, who were given 60 days to respond in writing with their thoughts on the proposal.
If approved, businesses included in the outlined boundary will pay a levy based on their property assessment. The funds would go toward things like beautification, signage and the like to improve the main drag of St. Jacobs – King Street.
Craig Miller, owner of Xclusive Elements and a member of the BIA steering committee, says some industrial businesses at the north end of King Street were opposed to the idea, so they’ve redrawn the boundary to exclude them from being included in the BIA. The Home Hardware headquarters also will not be within the zone.
“Most people I’ve talked to it’s been a very positive response. I think from my end a lot of the business owners are excited about the fact it gives us a little bit of unity amongst us businesses. There’s no vehicle right now for us businesses to get together and share ideas and to have community events, beautification projects. It’s kind of like a very grassroots approach to it,” Miller said.
He said while Mercedes Corp. – owner of the farmer’s market, outlet mall and many downtown properties – has done a great job organizing events in the village, it was time for businesses to have a little bit of control in what happens there.
Miller notes they’ve reached out to numerous BIAs in Ontario to get their perspective, and the committee believes the BIA will benefit the whole community.
As for what they’d like to do, they’d like to start with some general beautification.
“I think in the interim we want to keep it relatively quantifiable, for instance, the flowers, making sure that the village looks presentable to the community and to visitors. At the end of the day I think we can all admit St. Jacobs is a good place to live and to do business and visit, but we want to take it from good and make it great.”
Mercedes Corp. president Marcus Shantz says while he’s used to being the face of the market, the BIA will be a project for the local businesses to take charge of.
He says from the letters they sent out about the proposed BIA the township received a number of positive responses.
“The Municipal Act only asks if people object. I believe there were actually 21 businesses that wrote in favour of doing it. I think that’s a good sign. I think there’s a recognition among a lot of people that we maybe need to be more formally organized in order to maintain what we have, be competitive and get noticed by local government,” Shantz said.
For example, they’ll now have a formal entity to speak to regional government about the reconstruction of King Street that’s happening in the next two years. They’ll also be able to apply for grants like other small towns do through their BIA.
“I hope that it actually starts to get the various businesses working together more on common areas of interest and that we actually start to take responsibility for what’s happening in the town and that it helps us to think ahead and plan events and do other kinds of things that help all of the businesses together,” Shantz said.
Rob Boulianne, owner of Toy Soup in St. Jacobs, says this is a win-win situation for the businesses and residents of St. Jacobs. The businesses will take the brunt of the fees, and there will be indirect positive effects for residents.
“If you look around the town, if you look around St. Jacobs, it’s a little dowdy. That happens over time, and that’s because there isn’t a unified presence. Everyone assumes the township [is] going to do things like the signage and pretty up the town. In reality they don’t,” Boulianne said.
While some people think a BIA only helps the retailers, he believes it will be nice for everyone who works, lives, and visits St. Jacobs. There’s the potential to make the downtown look a little more chipper with things like hanging flower baskets, bike racks or new signage.
The best example he can think of is a place called Columbus, Indiana, where a company called Cummins Diesel got on board to participate in the BIA.
“What they did was to beautify the town, whenever there was a building being built, whether it was a fire station or a library, they would actually donate the architect fees. So you’d get these world class architects designing your fire station or whatever in town and it’s gorgeous. You’re looking at every other building, it’s like wow,” Boulianne said.
“They see the benefit of having a nice town.”
Woolwich council will hear from the steering committee again on Nov. 10.