The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has set the electoral districts for the new 16-member HRM Council, which will …
Bernie Smith’s next chapterBy Richard Reesh Woodbury | Oct 3, 2012
Long a champion for Spring Garden Road, the business advocate now sees opportunities in the North End.
To many, Bernie Smith is best known as the former head of the Spring Garden Area Business Association. These days, he’s keeping busy as the head of the North End Business Association (NEBA), a business improvement district (BID) for the North End. The establishment of a North End BID hasn’t been easy.
“I think this whole area has a tremendous opportunity and it really hasn’t been capitalized on as much as it should,” says Smith. He sees the North End as a potential business incubator for Halifax, noting there are less and less opportunities for small businesses to start up in inexpensive areas. “That sort of space is still available in the area,” says Smith.
Past initiatives to establish a BID in the North End failed, but Smith wasn’t lacking in confidence when he was first trying to drum up support for the initiative. “Oh, we’ll get it in,” he said in early February 2011. At the time, Smith’s business card referred to the endeavour as the Agricola/Gottingen Business Initiative, but the proposed BID was later morphed to include the Hydrostone area.
The process for establishing a BID involves a vote by the commercial property owners in a given area on whether they are in favour of the idea. Each commercial property gets one vote and if the vote is successful and approved by council, a modest levy is placed on the tax rate for the commercial properties. This money is used to work on various marketing initiatives and to have the BID act as a voice for the businesses in the area.
In late April 2011, an information meeting was held at the Bloomfield Centre; it was clear support for the initiative was waning. Just days before, Smith had told The Chronicle Herald, “At this point, I would honestly have to say a lot of people are sitting on the fence on this,” he said in the April 15 edition.
At the meeting, the room was set up to seat about 75 people, but it was only half full. Smith lined up about a half-dozen speakers: some Spring Garden Road area merchants to talk about their experiences with a BID, people from HRM and a Gottingen Street-based restoration business owner who was in favour of the latest initiative.
“We’ve never had anybody working for us, working to unify our voices,” Hal Forbes, the owner of three commercial properties in the area told Halifax Magazine. While the meeting was labelled an information meeting, it was clearly a sales pitch, with one person in the audience even referring to it as a “Bernie Smith love-in.”
While the audience was mostly in favour of the idea, some objections were raised, including that if the BID was successful at making the neighbourhood more attractive, property values would rise, meaning property taxes would also go up. Other criticisms included that the BID would be better off serving individual areas—not a Gottingen, Agricola and Hydrostone collective—and that the effectiveness of the BID would only be as good as the person who is running it.
While the qualities Smith would bring to the table weren’t in question, the question of whether he would be there long term was one that concerned the crowd, especially given his name was often touted as a potential candidate for mayor. Smith was guarded about his intentions at the time, but it’s since become clear he isn’t running. “If I really thought I could make a difference, I would probably consider it strongly,” he says. “The thing is, could I make a difference?”
When the votes were counted in May 2011, 126 votes were cast, with 83 in favour and 43 against. The BID wasn’t a done deal though, as it still required approval from regional council and needed to be formalized under the HRM Charter. When that time came in early July 2011, councillor Jerry Blumenthal introduced an amendment to exclude the Hydrostone from the BID. This motion passed and the Agricola/Gottingen Business Initiative, which later morphed into the Agricola/Gottingen/Hydrostone Area Initiative, was now back to covering its original geographic area.
Looking back at getting the BID up and running, Smith says it took longer than expected. “It was certainly twice as much work as I expected,” he says. He attributes the time lag to just how big the area is, as well as delays in getting before council and community council.
Fred Connors, the owner of Fred salon on Agricola Street and current mayoral candidate, says there is optimism in the area’s business community now. “With the business association thrown into the mix, it [now] means there is a team of very energetic, very active professional people in the North End whose common goal is to make the North End as vibrant and hospitable as possible for business as it possibly can be,” says Connors, who also sits on NEBA’s board. “And that’s a good thing.”