The Old Town Kemptville BIA – Will It Grow or Die?

Originally published in 2018

Dear Friends of Downtown Kemptville:

When I accepted the position of Executive Director in January of 2016, I was quite frank about how I saw my primary responsibility working with the Old Town Kemptville BIA again. I was going to “either help build it or blow it up”.

The jury is still out on how successful we’ve been in building the BIA over the past two years. “We” because the current BIA Board of Management is committed to creating much more value to BIA Members and Associate Members than we currently offer. Eliminating the BIA is an option – the status quo is simply untenable; we can’t continue in our current form. The BIA comprises a tiny physical footprint representing no more than 70 to 80 businesses and tries to provide value to all of Downtown Kemptville on a budget of less than $25,000 a year. Compare that to the Downtown Carleton Place BIA with 150 members and a budget of $150,000.

The question of expanding the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area boundaries to better serve the local business community is attracting not only interest but also support from existing members and potential members alike.

A bit of background is necessary at this point – In 2015, the BIA received matching funds from the Eastern Ontario Development Program to commission a Business, Marketing and Programming Plan from the consulting firm of McSweeney & Associates. In their final report dated July of that year, they recommended:

“ In order to successfully support the achievement of the Downtown Vision, and achieve greater resident and visitor attraction to both Downtown and to Kemptville, McSweeney and Associates recommends to the Municipality of North Grenville the consideration of a new BIA to be established for the Urban Service Area of Kemptville that includes the current BIA area ”.

In July of this year a BIA Expansion Steering Committee was struck to identify the potential new boundaries and set a date for one or more formal public information sessions. The Steering Committee, chaired by our Treasurer, Stephen Bent (Manager,CIBC), recently completed an Boundary Expansion Prospectus which was approved by the BIA Board of Management for public distribution and discussion two weeks ago.

The Old Town Kemptville BIA has a two-fold aim in proposing boundary expansion: a) to continue our work reasserting the importance of smart growth for Kemptville and b) to expand our programs into adjacent areas, where they will add value to property owners and businesses alike. Next steps include meeting with Council and Municipal staff and to hold public meetings to determine the degree of community interest in proceeding with the proposed boundary changes.

Currently comprising Prescott Street from Elizabeth Street to Clothier Street and Clothier from Rideau to Barnes, the Old Town Kemptville BIA has for several years serviced businesses just outside its formal footprint and in the past two years has slowly moved away from the “Old Town” branding to a more generic “Downtown” appellation.

The fear of “losing” Old Town Kemptville’s identity within a larger BIA footprint is a commonly raised concern, but it should be balanced against the opportunity provided by much more extensive marketing that will reach into secondary markets, provide cross-marketing and promotion of two or three different types of “experiences” in Kemptville. The preservation of a downtown identity will always remain a critical part of marketing the overall Kemptville experience.

What many people aren’t aware of is that BIAs are member-funded through an additional levy applied to commercial and industrial properties within the footprint and that income goes straight into area improvements and programming. Annual BIA budgets are submitted to Municipal Council for approval, as well as being independently audited by external auditors.

The Boundary Expansion Prospectus focuses on lowering the levy (per $1,000 of assessed property value) from $2.30 to $1.00 while presenting a range of itemized budget items to prospective members. A new Kemptville BIA would see its budget increase from $25,000 to $131,000 based on this lower levy and the larger footprint. It could provide for such things as regional advertising as well as local advertorials highlighting 24 businesses a year; an office with full time staff and a detailed Economic Survey every three years. Put out to tender, this professionally conducted survey would provide members with detailed information about the trading area and customer preferences within it – beyond what is available through Statistics Canada – including people-on-the-street interviews.

All businesses in Kemptville share some common interests.

A Kemptville BIA would be a better advocate for economic development within our community, with the goal that employment growth in Kemptville is realized through the retention and expansion of local small business. A Kemptville BIA would have sufficient resources and capacities to reach and market much more effectively and consistently into both primary and secondary markets.

There are far greater results and successes to be gained by marketing a “complete package” of all that Kemptville has to offer. A Kemptville BIA could represent concerns more anonymously and effectively as a larger group than a single business/property owner. For example, a new expanded BIA could be very effective at liaising with the Municipality and the County with respect to the revitalization of the Highway 43 corridor and future boulevard and street-scaping plans.

The boundaries of the Old Town Kemptville BIA were created over ten years ago. Since then there has been significant growth in North Grenville and we will see even more commercial growth over the next 5 years. A new more effective Kemptville Business Improvement Area should be in place to meet this challenge.