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Board supports dissolving Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association

Nanaimo City Hall. - News Bulletin File
Nanaimo City Hall.
— image credit: News Bulletin File

Directors of Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association agree it’s time to dissolve the organization over discomfort of collecting levies from businesses after the loss of a city grant.

Association president John Cooper said the board unanimously supported a motion to dissolve, something he calls 'super disappointing.' A special general meeting with members will be held March 22.

The decision comes after Nanaimo city council decided to cut a matching grant to the association and instead set up a event funding that any person or organization could apply for to help with public events downtown. The city had matched a levy businesses paid for 16 years, according to the DNBIA. But a core review found the matching grant was unprecedented and recommended it be discontinued.

The association has argued it had no input into council’s decision and has since taken steps to adjust its budget, including laying off staff, closing its downtown office and cancelling events. In February, it stated it would still collect membership fees and directors hoped to save the DNBIA.

But Cooper told the News Bulletin this week they didn’t have the staffing to get through to the next levy payment in July and the board was also uncomfortable taking a levy without a matching grant because merchants and property owners were of the understanding there was a matching grant when they agreed to pay higher taxes than other commercial properties in the city. He also said there’s not enough resources to maintain adequate staffing levels to carry out the rest of the association’s strategic plan and the board sees no ‘win’ in adjusting its strategic plan with 22 months left in the bylaw — a time when the business improvement association would engage on its format and have the opportunity to reinvent itself.

“It didn’t make sense for us to drag our feet until that time and rather than wait until 22 months from now to start the community conversation about how we reinvent the BIA, we felt that we might as well restart now,” Cooper said. “It felt like a better decision for the merchants and property owners.”

Cooper said it’s up to the community where it goes, but it was obvious to the volunteer board the City of Nanaimo doesn’t like the way the funding model exists and it’s clear there’s a vocal population of merchants and property owners who are content with the association no longer operating like it has.

Money it has is expected to take the organization until April, and Cooper understands its assets would go to other revitalization-type organizations.

Coun. Diane Brennan said she’s sorry to see this happen and the DNBIA was an important part of downtown and its revitalization.

The association mentioned this as an opportunity for a community discussion, but Brennan would have liked to see that happen with a BIA still in place to support the conversation, make it happen, pick up the pieces and put them together to do whatever new initiatives were agreed upon in that process. That’s not there now, she said

“The promise was made during the last BIA vote that the city would match the funds that they kicked in ... that got lost, totally got lost, in this rush to cut their funding.” she said. “I suppose if the city truly is interested in the downtown and doesn’t just see it as just another mall, then the city is going to have to pick up that piece and lead a discussion as to whether we need a BIA and certainly the business owners are going to need to participate in that.”

Coun. Gord Fuller said a board of directors can make any decision it wants, but ultimately it’s up to members as to whether they want to dissolve. Members can always elect a new board if they choose to, he said.

“To say it’s because we’ve pulled funding – we haven’t pulled funding, we’ve put funding towards events; events that they did, that the Old City Quarter Association did. All that money is still available for the use of the DNBIA and other groups that want to use it to put on an event downtown,” he said, pointing out Nanaimo is the only community that provided matching money. “If [BIAs] in other communities can exist and quite happily on their own without city funds I would have to ask why is it that ours can’t?”

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