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Crystal City Close to Starting a BID

Under a 'Business Improvement District,' tax would pay for marketing, street cleaning and entertainment services.

A group of Crystal City property owners is asking the county government for permission to establish a Business Improvement District, in order to attract new tenants to the area and help transform the commercial strip into a more lively downtown.

THE PROPERTY owners are seeking to tax themselves to fund an entity that would provide marketing services, supply streetscape beautification and coordinate community events and entertainment in Crystal City.

On March 30, the County Board will hold a public hearing on an additional real estate tax rate of four and a half cents per $100 of assessed value for property in the proposed BID zone.

If approved, the BID will go into effect on July 1 and provide $10 million in services and improvements over the next five years. The district would comprise 158 sites along the Jefferson Davis Metro corridor.

The BID is an effort by business leaders to pool their resources as they try to turn the image of Crystal City from that of a staid row of office buildings into a vibrant destination full of restaurants and other nighttime attractions.

"The BID isn’t going to put tenants into the buildings, but it can create an identity for the area," said Tom Newman, commercial development specialist for the Arlington Economic Development department. "Crystal City has the office space, hotels and apartments, it just needs a program that [brings them] together."

IN 2003 the county created a business improvement district in Rosslyn, an initiative that has also helped revitalize Times Square in New York City and Center City in Philadelphia.

Due to the Rosslyn BID’s promotional work, and the musical performances they have organized, a greater number of people now stay in Rosslyn after hours, providing a boost to neighborhood restaurants and shops, said Cecilia Cassidy, the head of the Rosslyn BID.

The main advantage of a BID, Cassidy said, is that businesses both small and large are able to collaborate on projects that would not be feasible if owners worked separately.

Having a permanent marketing team in Crystal City should help change the perception that the neighborhood becomes deserted after 5 p.m.

"Most of the idea is that if we are working together instead of everybody doing their own marketing and promotion, we will get much better results," said Mara Olguin, Charles E. Smith’s representative on the Crystal City BID steering committee.

The tax assessments will also fund improvements in the look of Crystal City’s streets. In Rosslyn, service workers, called "ambassadors," remove trash from the streets, plant flowers along the sidewalks and provide directions to newcomers.

"When you get things like landscaping, it makes things more attractive at the street level," Newman said. "It make people feel more comfortable."

CRYSTAL CITY business leaders said they want to emulate the success the Rosslyn BID has had in bringing musicians and other entertainers to its district. The Rosslyn BID holds a lunchtime concert series and has been instrumental in coordinating the Rosslyn Jazz Festival.

The creation of a business improvement district will yield another tool for the county and business community as they attempt to rebound from the loss of tenants due to the federal Base Realignment and Closure Process.

More than 30 percent of Crystal City’s space will be vacated in the coming decades, as defense workers and contractors are relocated. As the county works to restructure Crystal City’s economy, the BID will be instrumental in recruiting new tenants to the affected buildings.

"The BID offers an opportunity to address issues like BRAC that we as a community should be talking about," Olguin said. "It’s a good vehicle for that kind of discussion."