After more than a month of relative quiet, the controversial proposal to create a Business Improvement District in downtown Asheville is back in the public eye, as the city will hold a public input meeting tonight, July 17, at 5:30 p.m. in the U.S. Cellular Center ballroom.
The BID proposal would levy a special tax on downtown property owners and use the funds to form an independent nonprofit that would seek to provide services ranging from street cleaning to security. Proponents, including many figures in downtown’s power structure, see the proposal as a way to ensure downtown’s prosperity and better face a myriad issues. Opponents — a diverse coalition ranging from conservative developers to radical activists — see the BID as a power grab that would impose an unnecessary tax while stifling downtown’s culture at the hands of an unaccountable organization.
During the lengthy and tense June 12 Asheville City Council meeting, a vote on the BID proposal was delayed until September, with Council members expressing general support for the idea, but concern over its governing structure and accountability.
“Input will be taken on all aspects of the proposal with a special interest in gathering input on the proposed Board of Directors structure and Ambassador program,” Sasha Vrtunski, the city’s project manager for downtown, writes about the July 17 session. “The meeting will be a drop-in format at the end of the business day to be accessible to a variety of stakeholders.”
The proposal that the BID employ a force of “ambassadors” who help visitors to downtown but also act to deter “undesirable” behavior remains a particular point of controversy, as opponents are concerned that it will serve to enforce gentrification in downtown.
The current proposal for the BID’s govern structure is another particularly contentious aspect, as it gives the lion’s share of the seats on its board of directors to property owners, especially those with over $1.5 million in holdings, and board members will choose their own successors. Critics have attacked the proposal as undemocratic.