Asheville City Council signs off on downtown BID

After months of debate, on Oct. 9 Asheville City Council passed the controversial proposal for a downtown Business Improvement District 5-2. Council did change the proposed makeup of the BID’s governing board, and will set a tax rate for the district at a later date.

In June, Council delayed a decision on the BID — a nonprofit funded by a special tax district. Last week, the interim BID board released its revised plans, intended to address concerns raised by Council and the public. The revisions reduced the footprint of the BID, tweaked the services offered, and added appointed seats to the governing board.

While chambers weren’t as packed as they were back in June, the Oct. 9 meeting saw both sides of the BID debate still at odds. BID proponents, including many active on city boards and in downtown’s power structure, asserted that services in downtown are insufficient, and that the BID will improve the area while ensuring its careful management.

Opponents, a mix of business owners, downtown residents and activists, contended that the tax will hurt small business and residents while placing power over tax money in the hands of an undemocratic board.

Council member Cecil Bothwell opposed the BID, saying it was unnecessary and that many in downtown are not supportive. “We’re elected to make the hard decisions, and if you don’t like it, you can throw us out,” he said.

Other Council members asserted that the BID is a way to potentially improve downtown services in the face of ongoing budget crunches, and noted that due to its initial three-year term, Council could shut it down. Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer called the BID a “grass-roots effort” and compared it to a homeowner’s or condo owners association. Council member Gordon Smith said he wanted to “legitimize the BID” and have its members come back with a variety of more specific options for implementation.

However, Council did make one substantial change, at Council member Marc Hunt’s suggestion: The city will appoint a third of the BID’s ongoing board. In the original proposal, interim and future board members would pick their successors. A total of four members will be appointed by outside entities (including the city).

In the end, Manheimer, Hunt, Smith and fellow Council members Chris Pelly and Jan Davis backed the measure. Bothwell and Mayor Terry Bellamy voted against it.

The vote enables the foundation of the BID, but doesn’t appoint its initial board or set its tax rate (5 cents per $100 for downtown property owners). Those matters will have to wait until later this year. The earliest the BID will go into effect is July 1, 2013.

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