Edmonton business districts set sights on post-pandemic recovery

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup
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Representatives of 5,000 Edmonton companies in the city's business improvement areas (BIA) are setting 2022 budgets and looking for city council's help to recover from the continuing impact of COVID-19 on brick-and-mortar operations.

The 13 BIAs have a mandate to support the vibrancy, economic health, and appeal of key commercial areas. The largest, the Downtown Business Association, (DBA) has a proposed 2022 budget of $1.5 million, while the smallest, the Fort Road Business and Community Association is working with a budget of $103,000.

The downtown association is looking to raise the tax levy on area businesses to 2020 levels, a 27% increase from 2021 to $1.3 million in revenue. The association's budget aims to restore pre-pandemic activity levels and revive "a vibrant, bustling economic centre of Edmonton where workers and the public alike want to be."

Among the key actions among the DBA's priorities for the coming year is a review of expanding its boundaries to encompass Rossdale and the Government Centre/Oliver areas, a move that would grow its territory to meet the current boundary of the 124th Street and Area Business Association.

The Old Strathcona Business Association, the second-highest funded BIA with a proposed 2022 budget of $572,000, is holding the line on its levy for a second year but will tap into savings and grants to spend an additional $47,000 over 2021.

A business in Edmonton's Strathcona area

Brick-and-mortar businesses still feeling pandemic pinch. Old Strathcona Business Association

The association is one of seven that plan to freeze levies in 2022. Another is The Crossroads Business Improvement Area."We know our businesses need us now more than ever and require our BIA to operate at a pre-pandemic level without the financial burden," according to the $172,000 budget submission by the central Edmonton organization.

The Kingsway District Association also planned to hold off increases to its levy until 2023. "Our membership levy was decreased by 20% due to expected business loss in 2021 with the pandemic and while we did not see as many closures as anticipated, we will continue to turn to our reserves to take the pressure off our business members with respect to the tax levy collection."

After appearing before city councillors to represent the BIAs, Old Strathcona Business Association executive director Cherie Klassen tweeted that "our bricks and mortar businesses are still facing very real challenges as COVID-19 impacts continue."

As chair of the BIA council, Klassen would like city hall to cover half of the 2022 levies, at a cost of $1.9 million. In 2021, the City of Edmonton covered 100% of levies using money set aside to deal with the impacts of the pandemic.

"Our businesses are making commitments to growth and to stay open and they are willing to pay 50% of the levy, even though they are continuing to struggle," Klassen said in an Edmonton Journal story. "The COVID-19 impacts are still very real for our businesses and this investment is vital as one step toward economic recovery."