With prospects of a special tax to fund a downtown Business Improvement District unlikely, the city announced Jan. 24, that the Asheville Downtown Improvement District's board was going dormant. According to a board representative, the members continue to work to accomplish the BID's goals through other organizations and methods.
"It's because [Asheville City] Council is not really interested in funding a BID downtown at this time. They're not interested in funding a further tax in the future," says Ruth Summers, a BID board member and executive director of the Grove Arcade. "The city is starting to address some of the pressing issues in downtown."
As its backers pushed for its formation over the past few years, the BID — a service nonprofit funded by a special tax on downtown property — had the support of a number of notable downtown figures and organizations that asserted it would ensure the area's prosperity and help deal with issues of cleanliness, sustainability and safety in a way city government couldn't. BID members were chosen and in 2012, the BID proposal was presented to Council, where a majority of members also supported the idea.
But the BID proved controversial. An alliance of residents, business owners and activists argued that the tax hike was unnecessary and that the BID would place too much power in the hands of an unelected, unrepresentative board.
Council members approved the BID's formation, formally naming it the Downtown Improvement District, but balked at the requested tax. There were ensuing tensions between the board and city government over how to proceed. Meanwhile, Council passed the first major tax increase in over a decade, and the prospect for BID funding became increasingly unlikely, as it meant local leaders would be reluctant to pass another tax increase.
Nonetheless, Summers says that the city is carrying out a number of BID organizers' priorities. And BID advocates continue to push for their goals through groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Asheville Downtown Association. She cited the inclusion of increased downtown recycling and cleanliness efforts in the city's last budget, the recent statement from the chamber calling for a ban on female toplessness and ongoing Asheville Downtown Association initiatives, such as a volunteer program of "ambassadors" to assist visitors, similar to a program in Wilmington, N.C.
"We've heard from so many property owners that they're tired of the aggressive panhandling, they're tired of the graffiti, they're tired of trash on the streets," says Summers. "Because we spoke up, the city heard us."
"We're still going to bring awareness to Council, we're still going to look for funding, but we felt that we didn't want to tie up the board's time if we weren't going to have money and really couldn't go forward," Summers adds.
The BID "might come back, especially if the city looks at more budgeting issues, that's why we're not totally disbanding," she notes. "It's not like we've stopped our work. We're just pursuing it in a different way."