Plan for downtown Asheville Business Improvement District faces skepticism

Plan for downtown Asheville Business Improvement District faces skepticism-attachment0

On June 12, Asheville City Council will vote on creating a special tax area to fund the downtown Business Improvement District, a nonprofit entity with its own service and security functions. But the BID faces no shortage of criticism about its consequences and accountability.

“I’m concerned whether this is more about delivery of services or power,” said Council member Jan Davis, who is a downtown business owner (Jan Davis Tires). “Those are real worries.”

The BID would mean an additional 7 cents per $100 property tax for downtown owners. Its supporters claim the funds will improve services downtown, advocate for the interests of property owners and provide uniformed “ambassadors” to assist visitors and deter “undesirable” behavior in the area. The nonprofit’s board would appoint its own successors and would act independently of the city: It could hire a for-profit company to manage the BID, for example. The BID would be up for renewal in three years, but that would depend on a survey of downtown property owners, not a Council vote.

In addition to the money from the tax district, the interim BID committee sought $200,000 from the city’s coffers to fund the nonprofit.

The matter was supposed to go up for a vote on May 22, but when city staff rolled out their proposed budget in late April, the money requested for the BID wasn’t there. Regrouping, the BID’s proponents scaled down their request: They’re now seeking $50,000 from the city, along with additional funds from the county. A May 10 staff report framed the BID in a positive light, claiming it will “foster communication between property & business owners and residents for the benefit of all of downtown.”

On May 11, Asheville’s Downtown Commission unanimously voted to move the matter to Council. At that meeting, BID interim board member Kim MacQueen swore that the proponents are “working hard to win the hearts and minds of property owners downtown.”

Property owners will make up a majority of the nonprofit’s board, with a plurality of seats reserved for those with over $3 million in holdings. At the May 11 meeting, commission member Dwight Butner spoke approvingly of this arrangement, asserting that “the amount of skin in the game determines the amount of influence you have” over the BID and the tax funds at its disposal.

“This is the most equitable proposal I’ve seen to improve my community in 10-20 years.”

But Davis, who serves as Council’s representative on the commission, had concerns, observing, “There are people that don’t understand this,” and noting that he’s unsure a majority of those affected are behind the BID.

Believing the matter was worthy of consideration by the whole Council, Davis still voted for the BID proposal to go forward. However, his doubts remain.

“Those have not been addressed satisfactorily,” Davis tells Xpress. “I still don’t feel comfortable that the majority of property owners down here agree on this.”

He adds that he personally would be willing to pay an additional tax for better street cleaning and services, but that the city might be able to accomplish this by adding more street crews and other measures.

There’s also a move among some downtown residents to oppose or push for the BID to be significantly modified. Downtown residential property owner Inge Durre released a list of concerns about the BID on behalf of an ad-hoc group of residents, claiming that ” the vast majority of owners of residential and commercial property downtown have not had any say in the question of whether they agree to the establishment of a downtown BID, nor have they had an opportunity to select the Interim BID Board members.” Durre also asserts that the proposal is skewed to favor businesses instead of residents and that its cost “seems excessive.”

Durre also wonders why the already-existing Asheville Downtown Association doesn’t fulfill the advocacy and service functions of the BID, without the need for a special tax district.

The group has conducted its own survey of downtown residential property owners, and claims that 94 of 101 responses oppose the BID.

“Instead of increasing taxes on downtown property owners, the City should redirect part of our current taxes to fund the clean and safe services and further downtown revitalization,” Durres’ statement concludes, urging residents skeptical of the BID to show up in force to Council on June 12.

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