Local BIAs win big at TABIA awards

[attach]5243[/attach]At the first-ever Toronto Association of Business Improvement Area’s Recognition Awards, local BIAs picked up a whopping seven awards for their efforts in categories as diverse as Heritage, Streetscape and Decorative Lighting.

The Advocacy award was shared by five BIAs on St. Clair Avenue for their work on keeping the street a vital shopping hub during the construction of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way.

Besides the ‘Shop on St. Clair’ campaign, which encouraged those who frequented businesses along the strip to come and spend their money in spite of the construction, the BIAs dealt with the city, bringing the concerns of their members directly to those in charge.

With the construction over, a problem with on-street parking still remains according to the vice-chair of Regal Heights BIA Tony Bolla. He says his group will continue to work to improve the parking situation, which he says is important to attract customers to his members’ stores.

Bloorcourt Village Business Improvement Area won first place in the Streetscape Master Plan category for a plan to renovate the streetscape of Bloor Street West between Dufferin and Christie streets.

This plan includes upgrading benches and sidewalks, building new parkettes on street corners, and allocating streets for special events.

Bloorcourt BIA’s coordinator, Simone Weir, says the community has been extremely supportive of the plan.

[attach]5244[/attach]“It is actually a concern of theirs that they have voiced to us on more than one occasion,” says Weir. “That they would like to see more trees or they would like to see the area a bit more visually stimulating and not so much concrete.”

While some small changes have been made, such as trash receptacles being changed, the full plan will be a work in progress for the next decade.

Another streetscape improvement award, this time in the Creative Solutions category, was given to the Bloor Yorkville BIA. They won for getting businesses in the area to raise around $20 million for the Bloor Street transformation project.

The project involved widening the granite sidewalks, planting of over 130 London plain trees, installing new bike rings, granite benches and a seasonal flower display, says Bloor Yorkville’s executive director Briar de Lange.

Construction began summer 2008 and finished in fall 2010, but the idea for the project began in the late ’90s after the city told the BIAs they were going to have to rip up the roads to replace the corroding water system.

“It would be very disruptive if you were trying to run a commercial and retail business,” says de Lange. “So the idea went from there to say that if we are going to put ourselves through all this, let’s make something better out of it and make the streetscape a lot nicer than what you would find elsewhere as a city standard.”

According to de Lange, businesses in the area have reported an increase of 15 percent in sales, and the feedback they have received so far has been positive for the most part.

The Forest Hill BIA took third in the Outstanding Capital Streetscape Improvement category for its work in helping to renovate Montclair Parkette.

Thanks to the renovation project, the park now has lots of new lighting, a snakelike path bordered by rock walls and a bench along the wall, more plants and a new irrigation system.

“It went from just a typical grassy spot into something that is more of a welcoming community space,” says the BIA’s coordinator Yvonne Bambrick. “The Montclair Parkette is the south end gateway and then there is Suydam Park, which is the gateway at the north end and that is next on the list for improvement.”

And on the topic of gateways, the Gateway award was won by the Eglinton Way BIA, for the concrete structure bearing the group’s logo located on the southeast corner of Eglinton Avenue and Chaplin Crescent.

Eglinton Way’s chair, Maureen Sirouis, said the purpose of the gateway was to define the neighbourhood.

“(It defines) that you are entering the Eglinton Way, when you’re driving east on Eglinton,” says Sirouis. “It’s to tell people that they are in this district.”

For the Decorative Lighting award, Koreatown BIA came first place for their Tiger Light, which is displayed on the corner of Bloor Street West and Christie Street.

The Tiger Light, as its name suggests, is a tiger with approximately 22 thousand lights inside it, flashing out.

The chair of Koreatown BIA, Joseph Kang, says the idea for the light came about with the birth of his organization. The tiger was chosen because it is the national animal for both North and South Korea.

Kang adds everyone in the community loves the light.

“We have different ideas every year,” says Kang. “Last year we had laser lights that were pointing at the trees and it looked like the branches were moving.”

Finally there’s the Paul Oberman Heritage award, which was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas to honour Oberman’s memory after his death in May of this year.

Oberman, a real estate developer, was known for his dedication to keeping heritage buildings intact and also for renovations of decrepit buildings, including the North Toronto Train Station, which he turned into the Summerhill LCBO.

The award was given to Rosedale Mainstreet BIA, as Oberman did an extensive amount of heritage work in the area.

Oberman is remembered as a visionary and a teacher by Rosedale Mainstreet’s chair Marissa Agueci.

“If you looked at the train station when it started you would have said it’s a dump and nobody is going to buy it,” says Agueci. “Well he was able to make something out of nothing, and I think that’s the whole thing — that he had vision.”