Letter to the Editor: City’s top-down BID approach doesn’t work

Letter to the Editor: City’s top-down BID approach doesn’t work

As two of the many vocal opponents of the proposed Old Town
business improvement district, we applaud the decision by City Manager Mark Jinks to not press forward on the issue. While it is tempting to celebrate that we successfully fought city hall, there are serious issues still facing the city.

The BID process uncovered these issues and demonstrated a failure by the city government to listen to its residents and stakeholders.

While there was real tension between advocates and opponents of
the BID, both sides voiced important critiques of the city. In fact, the BID advocates, not us, said city staff were unable to support businesses, unable to adapt policies in a timely manner, unable to maintain existing city services and incapable of managing the waterfront. We were puzzled that this significant indictment of city management was not viewed as controversial. The city needs to answer these critiques that came from BID advocates.

Indeed, the city should use this BID failure to honestly re-examine its worldview. This would improve the residential and business climate in our city. For example, nearly every business and resident in Old Town cites the lack of parking as a concern that affects them negatively. Yet the city repeatedly dismisses these concerns.

It is baffling that the city government can have a wildly different
view than the residents and businesses of Alexandria. Why does
city council not see this as an issue when every other person in Alexandria does?

The constant piling of city-controlled taxes and fees on businesses in addition to a confusing and slow permitting process negatively impacts every business. One BID advocate boasted that after closing his storefront, he now is hired as a consultant to navigate the city bureaucracy. Good for him, but shame on the city for having such a process.

Now, let’s be clear, we both have interacted multiple times with city employees and can point to terrific examples of help and professionalism.

Our critique is of the leadership and policy processes of the
city that continually ignore the concerns of the community. These are fundamental concerns that a BID cannot solve.
Top-down instructions on a BID to the myriad of variations in the 22314 zip code – which include high-end restaurants, ice cream shops, retailers and office tenants — was destined to end badly. The business community has many views on solutions. The reality is that the city doesn’t even bother to try to engage with businesses.

In fact, here is a great example. The council BID vote was in June.
Despite multiple statements by BID opponents offering constructive criticism and despite council members pointing out they had received more constructive comments from opponents than proponents, not once, not ever did city staff reach out to the opponents during the entire summer to garner our suggestions.

They didn’t care about opposing views. They were not interested in engaging any business other than those they continually engage with.

That alone is a pretty clear and sad message from our city government.

Now after all this, we read with concern that Vice Mayor Justin Wilson still wants an Old Town BID tax. His repeated advocacy for the BID tax, which is anti-business, is a baffling and troubling statement on the top-down approach of our city government.

What purpose does it serve to continue to fight for a BID tax that the majority of businesses have clearly demonstrated
that they don’t want? We would all be better served to work together as a community to solve today’s challenges rather than shouldering the burden on one class of taxpayers.

-Dan Hazelwood, Owner, Targeted Creative
-Kim Putens, Owner, Bloomers