”It ended up an orphan.” — Vice Mayor Justin Wilson
This is the way the BID ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.
At the close of the Alexandria City Council meeting on Sept. 12, City Manager Mark Jinks officially announced his recommendation that the City Council no longer consider the proposed Business Improvement District (BID) for Old Town.
A BID is an organized group of businesses and property owners that, funded by a self-imposed tax, would make quality-of-life improvements to Old Town and help push for greater regional awareness of Old Town businesses. After two years of study, the BID Exploratory Committee put forward a proposal for a special tax district in Old Town that would be the first step towards establishing a BID. The proposal was vehemently opposed by other local businesses that, among other concerns, said the extra tax could cripple an already overburdened commercial sector. Citing public feedback from the business community against the idea, the City Council voted against the creation of the special tax district and proposed that a revised plan be put forward to a vote by local businesses, and the tax district could be established if the BID was approved by 55 percent of the businesses.
“The exploratory committee felt they put forward what was requested by the council and further study would duplicate those efforts,” said Jinks. “It was decided that the 55 percent threshold was not attainable.”
Jinks noted that many on the exploratory committee were local business owners themselves who had volunteered time for the study away from their stores, which they couldn’t continue to do for the duration it would take for another BID proposal.
But while the BID is dead for now, discussions on the council indicated the idea could resurface in a few years. Jinks and several members of the City Council expressed support for the idea of a BID in some form or another to combat changes facing the city. Some pointed to The Wharf opening in D.C., a $2 billion investment in waterfront properties many on the dais saw as a direct challenge.
“We’ve had almost a lock on downtown waterfront kind of entertainment, restaurant, and retail opportunities,” said Jinks. “Now, with the work in the district, there is going to be major competition. It may be something we revisit in a couple years. Right now, it’s wait and see.”
After the meeting, members of the City Council expressed their mixed feelings about the decision.
“I appreciate the work on all sides that went into this. Many of the issues the BID would address could be addressed by the city,” said Silberberg, pointing to a recent commitment by the city to do landscaping work on the tree wells. “But the main issues of Old Town businesses, parking and [competition from the internet], I don’t think a BID was going to fix those.”
Others on the council said, like Jinks, they believe the idea of the BID will likely be revisited in the future.
“It ended up an orphan,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. “It’s still a good idea, and it will probably eventually come back… There’s broad support for improvements to Old Town that we haven’t been able to prioritize given our tough budget.”
“It’s a tool that will have to be implemented sometime soon,” said Councilman John Chapman. “It’s unfortunate it couldn’t move forward. We’ll have to see how competitive the southwest D.C. waterfront will be.”