To BIA or not to BIA: that is the question for Napanee

A special meeting at the Strathcona Paper Centre saw conversation centred around the possible return of Napanee’s Business Improvement Area (BIA). Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

About 30 people attended The Strathcona Paper Centre for a special meeting of The Town of Greater Napanee Council on Thursday, Jan 12, 2023, to discuss the idea of resurrecting the Town Business Improvement Area (BIA).

Bylaw No. 2022-0025: To Dissolve the Downtown Napanee Business Improvement Area was passed by Council in April 2022, after years of upheaval including the resignation of around a dozen board members in a one-year period. But at the December 20, 2022 meeting of Council, downtown business owner Rennie Hutzler made a deputation requesting the reinstatement of the BIA.

Thus, Council called the special meeting to allow public comments from the business community about the town’s engagement with the downtown core. 

Tiffany Lloyd, a concerned citizen who lives downtown and is also a former Downtown Napanee BIA Executive Director, took some time to clarify for the audience what a BIA is: “an association of commercial property owners and tenants within a defined area who work in partnership with the municipality to create thriving and safe business areas that attract shoppers, diners, tourists, and new businesses.”

Lloyd pointed to “study after study” that show BIAs are beneficial entities that make towns better in the long run, and she presented the case of the Downtown Napanee BIA’s successes prior to its COVID-era breakdown and dissolution: “On an $80,000 levy we produced results that this town staff cannot come close to promising with a $152,000 budget.” 

Tiffany Lloyd, former Executive Director of the Greater Napanee BIA, addressed the January 12 meeting. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“So before looking at 2020 and 2021 as an example of the BIA’s [usefulness] to Napanee, I think the business owners deserve a hell of a lot of grace and appreciation for trying in the middle of total uncertainty and fighting for their livelihoods for two years of unprecedented times, in a 44-year history of the BIA in Napanee.”

Hubert Hogle spoke next and also submitted his thoughts in writing. Hogle stated that he worked in the downtown from 1970 to 2004 and that “I’ve lived three blocks away from it since 1972. In the 1980s, I bought and renovated several downtown heritage buildings, three of which I still own… I’m proud of my three heritage buildings, which I managed to hold onto through some very dark years.”

He professed disappointment with the way that the Town has operated its own downtown properties in the past: “Even our outside planning consultant wrote off the downtown. Here’s what the IBI (a municipal planning group) guy wrote in his Official Plan: 4.6.4.2.3 (c) Council recognizes that land designated Central Business Commercial are largely built out and that opportunities for new development are limited.” 

“I always believed that the IBI guy was dead wrong in his assessment of our downtown. He never envisioned a 98 unit condo development in the heart of downtown,” Hogle said, referencing the Gibbard District, a residential and retail centre currently under construction at the site of the old Gibbard Furniture Factory. “He never envisioned the progress that took place in our town during the last term of Council. There’s much more to do… I have every confidence this will happen this term.” 

Hogle criticized the BIA model, and asserted, “Over the years, I paid my BIA levies ($5,000±/yr) like everyone else. I watched successive waves of BIA directors and administrators come and go. I attended meetings and even served 9 months as a director myself. The problem with BIA governance was too many captains, but not enough crew. There were a number of large personalities with different visions… they never coalesced into a good Board of Management… the Board burned through a series of administrators. These became harder to recruit, and they often left abruptly.”

Hubert Hogle, a past member of the former BIA, shared his opinions at the Greater Napanee Town Council special meeting. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Hogle went on, “Over the years, I kept hoping that someone, with leadership skills and a talent for herding cats, could lead the BIA out of the jungle. Several very good people tried and failed. I eventually decided that the BIA, as an institution, was beyond repair. I supported its elimination last year. I believe there was wide support downtown for putting the BIA out of its misery.”

Hogle ultimately made the suggestion “that this issue be deferred for now and re-considered in two or more years when staff and Council have more experience to draw on.”

Rennie Hutzler, the original proponent of reinstating the BIA, spoke next, and noted she didn’t want to repeat herself, given she had just made a deputation to Council last month. 

However, she did add some controversy to the discussion.

“I’ve learned a lot since the last three weeks and the biggest lesson I have, unfortunately, is not positive… I don’t want to slam anybody, but I haven’t had a whole lot of cooperation from [Town] staff. I’ve asked John [Pinsent CAO Town of Napanee] for a total of what Bay of Quinte costs,” she said, referring to the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board, which the town has hired to do most of its marketing since the dissolution of the BIA.

“I couldn’t get it from him; he didn’t think I needed it and wondered why I wanted to know. Well, because we are paying $27,000 of that $36,000 bill. The downtown core is paying 75 per cent. But Bay of Quinte is the [whole] Town of Greater Napanee; it’s not [just] the BIA.”

Rennie Hutzler spoke at the special Council meeting discussing the BIA. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“Accountability is really important to me,” Hutzler concluded, “and that’s why I won’t support a staff-run downtown facilitation — because I think we have the expertise within our own group to do what we’ve done so well in the past.”

Shawn Lucas, a local business and property owner who has previously acted as BIA Chair, Treasurer and, in his words, “everything including chief bottle washer,” also shared his observations of the way things have changed in Napanee in the last several years. 

Lucas remarked, “Surprisingly, the majority of owners and businesses have survived COVID. Vacancy levels [downtown] are the lowest I’ve seen in a long time… We have new businesses setting up shop… The market square seems to be having a resurgence, and there are some new property owners doing a wonderful job on their properties. No direction, no input from the BIA, no nothing. We haven’t had the BIA [actually functioning] in three years, and I’m doing OK.”

Multiple other speakers shared their views before the end of the meeting. At the conclusion of the deputations, Council adopted a motion to note and receive all of the comments for consideration, and Mayor Terry Richardson stated that staff would bring a report back to the regularly scheduled Council Meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, to address the comments raised.

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