Bridgewater council grants BDA $200,000

Business improvement district still a priority

Bridgewater’s budget will have to make a bit more room.

The Bridgewater Town Council backed the Bridgewater Development Association (BDA) on February 23 at a council meeting with pre-budget approval of a $199,136.48 grant.

It will be funded through regular taxation, which is not expected to increase.

“We’ve generally been self-sufficient with our land sales. And we fully expect that to turn around, so it was really to keep operating from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016,” said Ms Ida Scott the BDA’s manager, who has been with the organization for 11 years.

The BDA has reliably covered its operating costs since it started in 2002, but because of a lack of land sales in 2014 the association had to find an alternative means of funding.

“There’s a downturn in the economy, and that’s the issue we’ve been having to deal with,” said Ms Ida Scott, the BDA’s manager, who holds the only staffed position within the organization.

“We had a lot of inquiries, but they weren’t followed up on. A lot of them went to lease instead of building their own new property.”

It was the second time in its 13 years of existence that the BDA has had to reach out to council. The BDA has funds itself through the sale of commercial and residential land. Since its origin, it has only requested $65,000, during a previous sales slump.

The organization’s forerunner was the Bridgewater Development Commission, which purchased the land the BDA sells in Bridgewater more than 40 years ago. When the commission folded, the land reverted to the town. When the development association started, the land was given to the group.

Its purpose is to help position Bridgewater as a community of choice for businesses and individuals in which they can reside and grow.

Ms Scott said they own residential land in the Glen Allan subdivision and commercial land in the Bridgewater Business Park.

She estimates the group needs to generate $200,000 to keep going every year.

Council was divided on the decision to give the grant.

“It makes me a little nervous we’re pre-approving, in essence, $200,000 before we’ve gone into budget debate,” said Councillor Andrew Tanner, alluding to the tough budget cycle ahead.

“I think the intent during our initial discussions was to bring that down, ease that down just a bit to give us some flex room when we go into budget, and hopefully, the BDA would have sold some land sales that would have actually propped them up even further without the Town of Bridgewater enabling that grant.”

Other members were fully supportive.

“I think their fingerprint is on most, if not all, of the economic development that has occurred in this town, and I think there are seeds that have been planted by the BDA still out there germinating,” said Mayor David Walker.

“I think the strategic plan of the BDA is aggressive. I think it positions it well in making Bridgewater a community of choice.”

This new strategic plan includes the BDA and Town of Bridgewater having a shared vision; downtown core improvement and revitalization; business attraction, retention and expansion; branding; and marketing. These are to be carried out by action teams and subcommittees.

One of the BDA’s main projects for the coming year is to find out if the town wants to establish a Business Improvement District (BID).

Of the $199,136.48 grant, $13,000 was approved to pay a part-time employee to see if business and property owners are interested in the project.

“From what we understand, there must be a bylaw in place in order to establish a business improvement district, since the formation will necessitate having a levy against property in the BID area,” said Ms Scott, who asked the town of Bridgewater to prepare and approve a bylaw allowing for the establishment of a BID in a separate presentation on the same evening.

The BID would include 88 businesses in Bridgewater and would allow them to be represented by a single voice. It would also offer benefits to the businesses in terms of aid with marketing, facade improvement, special events, training, attracting new customers to the downtown and more project funding.

She recommended using the bylaw and service regulations of the Halifax Regional Municipality as a model.

Council will decide whether to approve this motion at its next meeting.

Some of the group’s past achievements include the Glen Allan subdivision, Generations Active Park, Drumlin Hills, HB Studios Sports Centre, the new Baptist church, Roundhouse Drive, Gow Drive, Langille Drive, the Collaborative Health Centre, King Street’s revitalization, the revitalization of the King Street Court and gazebo, interpretative panels and banners hanging from standards on both sides of the river, the Bridgewater Performing Arts Society, Grinder Square, the Riverfront Renaissance Action Team and a business expansion program that was used to fund both the marina and the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre.

Future land sales will be put into a reserve for the BDA to finance itself for the following year.

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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