News Opinion — 28 January 2010

Dear Mayor Euille and members of City Council, 

We are writing to you on behalf of more than 1,500 businesses in Alexandria. We represent businesses of all types and sizes located throughout our great, diverse city, from the West End to Del Ray to Arlandria to Potomac Yard to Old Town to the Eisenhower Corridor and all neighborhoods in between. Our members are business owners, employees and residents many of whom are actively involved in working to make our city a better place to live, work and do business. 

The city and our organizations have a common goal: Ramp up economic development in Alexandria to grow our commercial tax base and create a fiscally sound balance of tax revenue generated from commercial and residential properties. The way to accomplish this goal is to attract new businesses and encourage the expansion and retention of existing businesses. We are asking to work even more closely with you to continue transforming the way the city encourages, promotes and serves businesses in Alexandria. 

Over a number of years, the city gained a reputation for being an unfriendly place to do business. Complicated, laborious and sometimes backwards processes for starting up a business, including permit and signage applications, unrealistic parking requirements and inadequate customer service have been common complaints we hear from our members.   

We most happily acknowledge that the city has made a deliberate effort to improve the procedures necessary to open and expand a business, such as opening a one-stop permitting center, reducing signage fees, allowing more signs to be administratively approved in the historic districts and improving small business zoning regulations at Cameron Station. 

We applaud these efforts and fully support continued, aggressive measures to change the perception of Alexandria as being business-unfriendly. 

However, we still have a long way to go to compete better with other localities in our region as far as attracting, growing and retaining businesses. 

We also acknowledge that we are still facing challenging economic times, including a serious budget deficit for the 2011 fiscal year. We desire to work more closely with you to find creative solutions that will promote economic development, which will benefit Alexandria businesses, our residents and the reputation of our city. 

We further acknowledge that you face the additional challenge of having a smaller staff to provide valuable services and we encourage you to educate and empower them to support business owners as valued customers in the same way they support residents. Empowering city staff to make rational, positive decisions should permeate all departments and interactions of the city, resulting in better customer service for businesses, residents and visitors. 

Finally, we acknowledge that the Alexandria business community has many voices and unique special interests that can create confusion as to our opinions on certain issues. To better communicate our positions, we pledge to work among ourselves to better coordinate our messages to the city. We now stand united and will speak with one collective voice for business in all parts of Alexandria. Better business in each neighborhood and within specialty industries benefits all of us. We desire to share our best practices and work with the city to implement fair and equitable policies and procedures that will benefit both businesses and residents. 

We have selected specific initiatives to pursue in cooperation with you to improve the business climate and create a more positive perception for Alexandria in 2010: 

Develop an economically viable small-area plan for the Eisenhower-West corridor.

Clarify and continue to streamline requirements to establish and grow a business in the city particularly for our retail and restaurant establishments.

Acknowledge the contributions of the association community in Alexandria and create incentives to attract and retain them.

Dispel the myth that there is not adequate parking and develop effective strategies to assist people in locating and utilizing existing parking facilities in Old Town; reassess parking requirements for businesses in Del Ray.

Promote businesses in a way that reflects the individual character of each major neighborhood in Alexandria.

Approve a way-finding plan and define requirements to allow businesses to purchase signs as outlined under that plan.

We sincerely wish to partner with you to accomplish each of these initiatives and show clear, measurable results in 2010. We look forward to making positive, long-term changes with you to make Alexandria an even better place to live and for businesses to thrive in 2010 and beyond. 

Tina Leone, president and CEO, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce
Cindy McCartney, president, Alexandria Retailers Off King Street
Jill Erber, president,Del Ray Business Association
Felix Oliver, executive director, Eisenhower Partnership
Steve Tees, president, Old Town Business and Professional Association
Bill Reagan, executive director, Small Business Development Center
Scott Kersjes, president, West End Business Association 

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