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City takes on BIA duties after disbanding group

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

The Downtown Oshawa BIA is officially gone.

BIA Board Chair Ivano Labricciosa says it’s unfortunate and is disappointed in how things rolled out. However, he says he hopes the city will be able to pick up and continue to carry out the services and functions previously performed by the organization.

“Our worry is that the city picks up the functions and supports the businesses successfully, and continues with a plan for the downtown as we were envisioning.”

Labricciosa notes the board had plans about revitalizing the downtown core and bringing people back to the centre of the city, while also working on the top issues concerning members, such as safety and security in the downtown, economic recovery from COVID-19, and parking.

He says he’s proud of the initiatives the BIA has brought to downtown over the years, one of which more recently being a curbside pickup program for spots downtown.

“This was nicely initiated and implemented by city staff, and so hopefully [these such] programs continue,” he says, noting the banner program, Christmas wreaths, and planters program to put up planters and flowers in the downtown, to name a few.

In a statement released to its members following the final board meeting last week, noting its accomplishments and the role they played in revitalizing the downtown, as well as the support they provided to businesses for the past 47 years.

“As the City of Oshawa takes a greater role in the redevelopment of downtown Oshawa, we are confident that it will become even better and more vibrant than ever before,” the statement reads.

Oshawa City Council voted in favour of officially disbanding the BIA at its most recent council meeting.

Council passed a bylaw needed to repeal Bylaw 94-74, which officially terminates the organization, effective. Feb. 28, 2021.

For Councillor Derek Giberson, one of the councillors to vote against the dissolution, this means less connection and less support for both the community and downtown businesses.

“This really is an impact on the whole vitality of the downtown,” says Giberson.

He notes the BIA was an organization that not only helped with programs, events and the beautification of the down, but they also looked at how to be effective partners in dealing with some of the challenges the downtown faces.

One of the main issues Giberson says council is facing now is how the city going to continue the services and functions of the BIA without any funding, noting it’s the businesses that will face the initial impact.

“They are not going to have that support. That’s gone now and the immediate impact is you’re going to have these businesses who are struggling through this pandemic, who need support more than ever, who now have that pulled away from them,” Giberson continues. “It’s gone and they’re going to find it even harder to navigate this pandemic.”

City staff provided council with three options for how to move forward without a BIA.

Option 1 saw the city assume all BIA responsibilities (with no formal entity with downtown representation), and option 2 saw the city assume all BIA responsibilities and establish a Downtown Oshawa Advisory Committee.

The third option presented to council was to establish a Downtown Action Committee and BIA responsibilities are divided with the city.

Council chose option one, which Councillor Brian Nicholson says will still allow downtown businesses, organizations and individuals an opportunity to approach the city as a delegation for future projects in the downtown.

“It leaves the impetus on the community to decide how they will set up organizations in the downtown,” says Nicholson, noting he is “very pleased” the city provided this option. “This will allow us to investigate many ways of handling the downtown.”

According to the report, the dissolution of the BIA means they are no longer overseeing the improvement, beautification and maintenance of the downtown, or promote the downtown as a business and shopping area.

Furthermore, there will not be any downtown representation and additional staff resources in various departments as the city may be required to assume these responsibilities.

Some implications include taking over all streetscape beautification, including the banner program, holiday wreaths, winter greenery, and holiday lighting.

The report also states recreation and culture services would be required to take over events and wall murals, as well as look for sponsorship opportunities – something that isn’t expected until 2022 due to the pandemic, and that economic development services would take over promoting the area as a business or shopping area.

The problem, Giberson says, is there is currently no plan to fund any of these initiatives, something he says was taken care of through the BIA.

“It shocks me the confidence that we have moved on this when in fact we don’t know the cost of it,” he says. “Now we sit here scrambling and instead of pushing pause on decisions. We’re going to do it first and get answers later.”

Councillor Bob Chapman, who chaired this portion of the meeting, says this option gives staff the opportunity to determine what is already being done, what needs to be done, and will come back with recommendations and costs.

“We’re not going into this blind,” he says. “We’re going into this in a slow and prudent manner to find out what we need to do, what staff is going to be able to do, what they’ll recommend to do, and then we’ll make the decisions.”

The transition from the BIA to the city is expected to be finalized by Feb. 28, 2021, and city staff is expected to report back to council with any potential financial implications moving forward.