It was a long time coming, but with a vote by council on Feb. 20 the Leslieville BIA officially came into existence. The new business improvement area runs between Empire and Vancouver avenues along Queen Street and includes about 120 businesses.

Andrew Sherbin of Edward Jones was part of the steering committee pushing for the BIA.

“I immediately fell in love with the neighbourhood so I wondered how the neighbourhood had been marketing itself,” said Sherbin, whose been in the area for three and a half years.

He said he is pleased the push was successful and thinks it can only be a positive for the area.

“It’s giving us the opportunity to have a structure formalized to really address the marketing and branding of the neighbourhood to get more foot traffic coming to the area,” he said.

The association will officially kick off with its first annual general meeting Feb. 28.

Jeff Marsh of Tango Palace was also part of the steering committee. He’s owned the coffee shop for more than 20 years and said there’s been talk of a BIA for 15 of those.

What makes Leslieville unique and marketable is exactly what’s kept a formalized structure out of the business community for so long, he said.

“It speaks to the roots of Leslieville itself and the business climate down here,” Marsh said. “There’s a real independent business kind of vibe. It’s about people with an idea coming in and developing that idea.”

It was recent changes that allowed for a successful vote this time, he said.

Of the 279 ballots distributed to owners in the area, 122 were returned to the city by the November deadline and of those 77 per cent were in favour of designating Leslieville as a BIA.

While there’s been no formal business association in the area, there have been several business organizations over the years and the kinds of events that are organized by BIAs in other parts of the city have been taking place in Leslieville, too. Just without a budget for promotion or the participation of all the area business.

“The neighbourhood already has events and what this does is it provides stable funding and it gives us the money to promote those events across the city,” Marsh said.

One of those events is the holiday-themed Wanderlust, which marked its seventh year in December.

Nathalie-Roze Fischer of Nathalie-Roze & Co. is one of the business owners behind that event. She said a lot has happened without a BIA, but was supportive of the idea and thinks it will be positive for the neighbourhood.

“It will be a lot more productive and we’ll have a lot more doors open,” she said.

It will make those events easier to plan, Fischer said, especially since the city is involved with all the BIAs in Toronto.

Businesses in a designated business improvement area pay a fee or a tax to the BIA on top of their property taxes, this fee is matched by the city.

It is this fee that some business owners objected too, but Sherbin said for the size of the average business in the area the fee isn’t onerous and many people overcame that objection to eventually vote in favour of the BIA.

The money is used to pay for things like streetscaping in the form of flower baskets along a street stretch or promotion of an event such as Wanderlust. For most BIAs, it is also used to hire a full- or part-time staff person to take care of promotion, permit applications and other event details, which allows business owners to focus on what they do best, Fischer said.

No one is sure yet what exactly the change will mean – Fischer thinks some of the established events could get bigger and better, while Sherbin is excited to see what the first board can do.

“We’re just getting started,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Beach Mirror by DANIELLE MILLEY |February 27, 2013