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Bringing downtown together is good

A downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) proposal is up for debate, and in true Squamish style, it's being debated with vehemence and conviction.

A downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) proposal is up for debate, and in true Squamish style, it's being debated with vehemence and conviction.

It's great to live in an area where residents, business and property owners take such intense ownership of their neighbourhood. If that energy is ever harnessed to move in the same direction, there'll be no stopping this town.

In the meantime, however, property and business owners hash out the merits of the only real plan to improve the commercial viability of downtown Squamish.

There are grumblings among people who oppose the idea that this is just another district tax grab. The irony is that proponents say not only is this not district money, it's money that can be leveraged to petition the district to focus more attention on the downtown in a ways not previously done. As a BIA, businesses can also use the money to leverage financial support - perhaps in the guise of matching dollars - from such large locally based companies as Kiewit and Quest University.

That being said, Wilf Dowad asked a good question in a March 17 Chief article: What can a BIA do? The dry and theoretical answers so far provided have failed to generate excitement among the opposition. I'm not surprised that vague and bureaucratic explanations such as "BIAs are a proven mechanism to improve the business economy in weak downtowns" have failed to spark the imagination. But when fleshed out, the BIA is definitely thought provoking. And interested business and property owners will hear all the details during the Monday (March 27) 7 p.m. information meeting at Gelato Carina.

In other towns, BIAs have brought about revitalization tax exemption bylaws, introduced façade improvement programs, organized neighbourhood clean-ups and - as was suggested by Dowad - held parades. Hey, there's nothing wrong with a parade. Giving the BIA a face might make all the difference. Plans are already in the works to hold four summer concerts at the pavilion that may finally draw out those Garibaldi Highlands and Brackendale residents who eschew the town core. I can't wait.

The most inspiring downtown event I ever attended in my admittedly very brief two years in Squamish was last year's Wild at Art Festival. By all accounts this year's Adventure Centre location was a hit with visitors, but last year's stroll down Cleveland and Second Avenues, with all the anticipation of what each business had to offer the festival, brought the downtown together in a way I hadn't experienced before. It seemed that every business made a contribution to create the spirit of a joyful neighbourhood. For a fleeting moment, they drove out all thoughts of encroaching crime, roaming youth gangs, and business disputes. Now wasn't that nice? If making a BIA downtown will bring this kind of cohesiveness, which is obviously lacking among the 200 or so businesses, I'm all for it.