Is Asheville ready for BIDs?

Business-improvement districts are making inroads in communities across the country, including Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia as well as Charlotte, Greensboro and Chapel Hill.

And at least from the standpoint of those running the show, the results of these public/private partnerships have been good.

That was the message from representatives of three North Carolina BIDs who spoke at a Nov. 13 presentation hosted by the Asheville Downtown Commission and the Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors, a grass-roots group, at the Asheville Civic Center.

Once enabled by state and city legislation, BIDs undertake such tasks as urban beautification and managing special events, and proponents say they can do a better job than city government.

The goal, said Moira Quinn, is to stimulate commerce and market the district in order to attract new business and strengthen the economy.

“It is our job … to leverage, recruit and retain business,” explained Quinn, who is senior vice president of communications for the Charlotte Center City Partners. But accomplishing that task can entail anything from working on transit issues and promoting the city to cleaning sidewalks.

Those might seem like city government’s jobs, but Ed Wolverton, the president of Downtown Greensboro Inc., says the BID is a more effective way to get things done.

“There are services our city would not do, should not do, could not do,” he noted. By way of example, Wolverton brought up a downtown-signage program his group implemented. “If we had waited for the city to do this, we’d still be waiting,” he said. The benefits trumpeted by the speakers included job creation, increased retail traffic and even a drop in panhandling.

If there is a hang-up, it may lie in how these services are paid for. BIDs are funded mostly through an additional property tax, and a city can have several different districts, each with its own tax rate. A completely residential district, for instance, pays a lower rate than a business district but receives fewer services.

And as some audience members noted, downtown-property owners are already unhappy about the city’s property-tax rate; several also cited high and inconsistent valuations as obstacles for downtown businesses.

“Asheville has a lot to clean up before this can be implemented,” said one audience member.

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