A year on from its formation, Sheffield Business Improvement District, or BID, is yet to become a household name.
But that is likely to change in the next 12 months, as the investment body launches key campaigns and aims to make a noticeable difference to the city centre.
The BID is a five-year project backed by 505 Sheffield businesses, which each pay an annual levy at one per cent of their rateable value. The BID then puts that money towards five targets for the city centre: to make it busier, safer, cleaner, easier and more together.
But what does that actually mean for residents and visitors?
BID manager Diane Jarvis said a lot of the work so far had been done under the radar. But the coming year will be ‘absolutely crucial’.
She said: “A whole range of feasibility work had to be done. A lot of foundation building. But we are finally on our feet.
“We are really looking forward to year two because all the forming and storming is out of the way now. We want to start performing. Year two will be very much about performance.”
The BID has to put money raised from its business levy towards its five stated aims. It cannot replicate council projects, but can supplement them. And while major projects are yet to begin, there have been some small but significant efforts so far.
Diane said: “We have had some ‘quick win’ investments such as the Herd of Sheffield, for which we are one of the supporting partners. These sculpture trails have been proven to bring in new visitors and to drive spend into local businesses. And it will move people around the city centre.
“A similar trail in Norwich is in its third year. They have brought in 500,000 extra visitors and put an extra £2.5m into the economy.”
Another investment was this month’s Cliffhanger festival, which took place in the city centre for the first time – in part thanks to BID funding. Diane said: “The estimates are that it brought in 30,000 visitors, and at least half were new visitors, although there is no measure yet of whether they spent in local businesses. The next stage is to think how we can get businesses to capitalise on these opportunities.
“That kind of event could become self-sustaining because there are opportunities to develop it. It’s about creating a legacy.”
The BID has also helped Sheffield secure a place on Business in the Community’s Healthy High Streets programme, which aims to increase city centre footfall by 10 per cent, reduce the number of vacant properties by 20 per cent and stimulate the creation of new jobs over three years.
This is an example of the kind of partnership working the BID hopes to enable.
Diane said: “More than 500 businesses pay the levy but far more are impacted. The high street retailers are not new to this. Many of our leading brands are on high streets all over the UK.
“There are more than 230 BIDs in the country. For them it’s just par for the course of being in business in a city centre.”
This can come down to something as simple as businesses making the most of freshers’ week – new students’ first week at university.
“One of the reasons we were keen to get on the Healthy High Streets programme is the corporate partners with a lot of experience of how retailers can make the most of opportunities like that,” said Diane.
“There’s a lot of shared learning.”
With the blunt measure of city centre footfall lower than business leaders would like, the BID’s ‘busier’ aim is naturally a focus.
Safety is also high on the agenda. The BID funds a city centre police sergeant, Matt Burdett, who leads a team of eight PCSOs.
There has been a focus on cleanliness through a graffiti removal programme and an attempt to tackle antisocial behaviour by installing mobile security cameras in places such as Fitzalan Square.
That has led to the arrest of four people for vandalism, one of whom is going through the courts charged with 60 counts related to graffiti.
The question for Diane is whether this is the best use of the money her levy payers are putting in.
“We want to demonstrate the damage something like graffiti is doing to businesses, and also the cost,” she said.
“But intervention programmes would be more effective long-term. We need links into the voluntary sector to achieve that.”
The coming year, therefore, is vital to the future of the BID.
“We don’t want to invest in a lot of piecemeal little projects,” said Diane. “We think that would be a mistake.”
The first major project will be the Alive After Five campaign, due to launch in October. This is an attempt to address the ‘dead zone’ in the city centre, between 5pm and about 7pm, when footfall reduces massively.
“It’s about developing a longer-term coherence strategy,” said Diane. “We’ve got that in place with Alive After Five.
“We are now recruiting businesses to participate as well as doing consumer research. What is it that’s going to compel people to stay in the city centre?
“We can’t just make assumptions. There is no such thing as a ‘Sheffield person.’”
The BID has also pledged to invest in the Great Exhibition of the North should Sheffield be chosen to host the event, due to take place in 2018.
Diane said: “It would bring in £5million of Government funding and there is further potential for £5m of commercial sponsorship. I would expect it to do a lot more than 250,000 visitors. But for us it’s the lasting legacy of an exhibition like that.
“By investing in that, if it does come here, there are a number of things that we might be able to get out of it that leave a legacy, such as covered walkways and big screens, for example.”
When the initial BID project ends in 2020, there is the potential it could be renewed for another five years. But this depends on demonstrable success. Diane said: “For year two we really have to get it right in terms of how we show how the money is being spent.
“A big thing is to be a louder voice for business.
“We are looking at ways we can do that. We want to do a lot more engagement with company members.
“We’ve now got to be very selective about what projects we do, based on what the data it telling us. We can go through a renewal process and we do plan to do that, but we have got to demonstrate results first.
“Year two is absolutely crucial for us.”
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