By Mary Means, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
“To BID or not to BID” (May 12) is a no brainer. Old Town should have had a business improvement district years ago.
For more than 20 years, I lived just off King Street and owned a business across the street from the Old Town Theater. As a planning and community development consultant, I have helped numerous communities establish business improvement districts.
None have been dismantled — they prove their worth from the get go. The rationale for collecting an assessment from commercial property owners within a BID district is that they are the ones who benefit the most from the additional services the assessment makes possible. And, generally, the value of their property increases — or stabilizes if it had been headed down — soon after a BID is created.
BIDs generally are governed by a board elected by those who pay the freight — the property owners in the district. Some BIDs include residential properties, but most do not. But they do usually include mixed use properties — those with commercial and residential uses.
Most states require a majority vote of property owners within the proposed boundaries in order to create one. And most have a sunset clause of between five and eight years, at which point it comes up for renewal and property owners get to vote again. Very few are voted down because by then, the added value of the BID is well known to property owners.
For studies on 40 years of BID experience, check in with the International Downtown Association, or the National Main Street Center. Virginia has quite successful examples in Norfolk, Richmond, Lynchburg and other cities. Look across the river to D.C. for BIDs in Georgetown, Capitol Hill, downtown and about a dozen more. They’ve been instrumental in the revitalization of several tired commercial streets.
BIDs generally are professionally staffed with people whose job is solely to focus on the success of the district’s businesses and residents. Perhaps if Old Town had had a BID, there would not be so many vacancies along King Street.
There might be better management of parking for restaurants and bars on busy weekends. And there might be a better mix of retail. BIDs have up-to-date market research and help find the right business for key locations.
Why is a low-grade office services, shipping and luggage shop on the key corner of King and Alfred streets? Probably because the building owner wanted a tenant, any tenant who could pay the rent. Some BIDs even have a fund to underwrite a couple of months of rent as they undertake aggressive recruitment of a retailer whose presence will activate the area around
them, not just fill a space.
With Tanger Outlets and the MGM casino adding to the allure of National Harbor, there’s no question: business owners and Alexandria officials should be encouraging the formation of a BID in Old Town.