In conjunction with the Caribbean Local Economic Development Project (CARILED), the Belize City Council today hosted a volunteer under the auspices of the Canadian Technical Assistance Program to present the concept of a Business Improvement Area to businessmen and other residents of Belize City, particularly those in the downtown area stretching from Birds’ Isle to Regent Street West including several of the landmarks to be renovated under the $15 million Taiwan-funded Downtown and House of Culture Rejuvenation Project. In simple terms, a BIA, which was first established in the Canadian province of Ontario, brings together local businesspersons and commercial property owners and tenants to work together, along with the local government, to organize and carry out physical improvements and promote economic development in their area, for the cost of a simple membership fee. Technical Advisor and President of the Ontario BIA Association Andrea Steenbakker, who has been working with BIA’s in her native Ottawa for a decade, spoke to some of the projects that such organizations can work on.
“All BIA models work generaqlly the same but they are defiantly flexible and you can set up a BIA in a manner that best suits your economic situation, your business community , your cultural community, etc. The idea of a BIA is generally to have the businesses work collaboratively with the local municipal government to make the area more prosperous, by making it more attractive, for consumers, good restaurants and tourist. Increasing local development opportunities by making areas more appealing and that could be anything from fixing it up physically; beautification, adding small cultural details making areas unique to adding security.”
Mayor of Belize City Darrell Bradley says community participation of the kind inspired by the BIA might have saved him some headaches during the construction of the Battlefield Park, which he used as an example of the kind of participation he is seeking.
“I remember when we started, the first thing that really stucked with me was that we had so many protest. We had so many people saying that they had problems with what I thought was a very spectacular initiative. I see my friend here, Mr. Robinson who is a member of the Taxi Association, and I recall that they had very legitimate concerns about the project. I remember talking about other stakeholders; members of the banking community who had issues with parking. I remember looking at other stakeholders in the area who had – Hofeus for example who we had to sit with for repeated occasions so we could address some of their concerns. I remember one lesson that has been something that has stucked with me, that every single initiative that is always done, has to be a people initiative.
And the Mayor envisions possible benefits for residents willing to participate
“We at the City Council were discussing various models. We like what we hear and see in Cananda, but this is something that can be reshaped. was discussing with our technical team and some stakeholders and we were talking about different models, even looking at how the downtown area can be something of a business zone with certain tax incentives to promote development in that area. We were looking at other areas in terms of greening the downtown, addressing issues of security, safety. Looking at all the various components that would make a downtown a vibrant hub for bringing people together and for economic opportunities. We recognize that the formula for that will only be a formula that is driven by meaningful collaborations, consultations and partnership.
Other areas to be considered include Princess Margaret Drive and the Philip Goldson Highway as well as Mahogany Street and Central American Boulevard.