BID public hearing draws crowd despite scheduling kerfuffle

LONG NIGHT: Members of the public began gathering at the Harrah's Cherokee – Asheville at 3:30 p.m to speak on the proposed business improvement district. Photo by Brooke Randle

An April 23 public hearing on a proposed business improvement district became an endurance test for members of the public as a scheduling mishap stretched the event almost six hours into the night.

The Asheville City Council meeting was moved from its regular venue at City Hall to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville and began at 4 p.m., an hour earlier than its regular start time to accommodate the large crowd expected. Three other public hearings that had been scheduled that night were postponed, leaving only the business improvement district public hearing on the Council’s agenda. 

Community members began gathering at the venue around 3:30 p.m. to comment on the business improvement district, otherwise known as the BID. If approved in its current form, the BID would raise taxes on downtown commercial and residential properties to fund area-specific services. As Council moved through its otherwise light agenda, it appeared its members were ready to participate in the BID discussion by 5:30 p.m. 

Except they couldn’t, according to City Attorney Brad Branham. Branham noted that since the BID public hearing was advertised to begin at 7 p.m, Council and the public were legally required to wait until then to begin the hearing.

The crowd of roughly 120 people expressed surprise and anger at the last-minute announcement. 

“What’s happening here tonight really demonstrates that you don’t care about hearing the voices of the people,” said resident Grace Barron. “Everything about this whole process was difficult to navigate. I mean, you said we need to be here at 3:30, and most people who are working a 9-to-5-type job are not going to be able to access that. And now you’ve [pushed] the [public hearing] back to 7 p.m. You kind of make up rules along the way.” 

“I’m with the other folks who wanted to express their disappointment with the changing around of the agenda today. And as a service worker, I’m lucky enough to have had most of the day off,” added Gab Bonfiglio.

The BID presentation finally began about 7:15 p.m. The BID proposal was developed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and presented by Eva-Michelle Spicer, co-owner of Spicer Greene Jewelers, and Larry Crosby, general manager at The Foundry Hotel. The plan would assess 9 cents per $100 valuation for downtown property owners and residents — about $360 per year for a property assessed at $400,000. The estimated annual budget for the BID could reach $1.25 million and could fund enhanced litter removal, landscaping, beautification efforts and a staff of downtown safety ambassadors

As proposed, a 15-person, Council-appointed board would govern the BID and would be made up of commercial and residential property owners and tenants, a food and beverage worker, an office tenant, a community representative and one at-large member. 

Following the presentation, 52 people spoke after Council suspended its rule that normally limits public comments to one hour. 

Of those, 13 people spoke in favor of the BID, saying that additional funding was needed to support the large number of residents and tourists who use downtown’s amenities and that the benefits of the BID would extend to Asheville as a whole. 

JB McKibbon of McKibbon Hospitality, which owns the AC Hotel, Aloft Hotel, District 42 cocktail bar and other properties downtown, said that the increased tax was important to improve safety, noting that some hotel employees have been mugged while walking to their cars at night.

“As far as I’m aware, we’re the largest property owner impacted by the BID and will represent roughly 10% of what’s required for the BID [budget],” he said. “I wish we were not at a point where we needed to spend extra funds in order to get where we felt the city needed to be to be welcoming to our guests and our employees. But clearly, I think there’s a lot of support around it.” 

The majority of the commenters spoke out against the BID and expressed concerns over the the role of the proposed safety ambassadors, the impact on Asheville’s homeless population and the makeup of the BID board.

“The BID promotes further marginalization of our city’s most vulnerable communities for its clean and safe program,” added resident Kyle Teller. “My work is not only public education, but cultural studies and research, [and] ‘clean and safe’ has been a dog whistle against marginalized communities for so many decades.” 

Several Council members also expressed concern over using property tax value as a criterion for the BID’s leadership and questioned whether the BID’s funds could be used to fund more community responder positions instead of safety ambassadors. 

“We can choose the type of board we want and who’s going to oversee the board?” asked Council member Antanette Mosley. “‘[The Chamber’s] proposal is just a recommendation, right?”

“There’s no obligation to form a board even if you adopt a BID,” answered City Attorney Branham. “Even if you adopt it and contract with a third party to perform the services, there is no obligation to form a BID board. If you do decide to form a BID board, it is Council’s discretion. Although you can empower that board, Council must maintain final discretion over all use of funds.”

The BID proposal requires two votes from Council. The first is slated for Tuesday, May 14, and the second on Tuesday, June 11. If approved, the governance structure of the BID will be established at a later date. 

“I think at the heart of a lot of these conversations I’m hearing is that there’s just really different perspectives and deep mistrust of the others who have a different perspective,” said Council member Maggie Ullman, reflecting on the public comments. “I think that we need to figure out what a ‘both-and’ solution looks like. To me, I think it’s important to make sure that if we have a part of our community raising their hands and saying, ‘Hey, I see a problem, could we help.’ I’m not in a place to turn away anybody helping right now.”


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13 thoughts on “BID public hearing draws crowd despite scheduling kerfuffle

  1. Jonny d

    Maybe no one else is paying attention. These are the most ignorant bunch of councilmen that I have seen in 50 years. If their lopsided view had not decimated the police department there would be no use for this crap. Any group of halfway intelligent people would be able to fund a successful police department and there would be no reason for this garbage. It’s like you want this beautiful thriving safe town with lots of tourists spending money. First, fix roads,slow down useless development, clean up, hire better police force, etc without building first. Start with the money in tourism development. Totally unnecessary. You are not ready for tourists!! It’s like moving into a home that has no roof. If any of you people buy into this self serving basackwards way of thinking then you get what you deserve.
    I can’t believe this ……….

  2. This article incorrectly states that a BID board seat is reserved for “a food and beverage worker.” In fact, no seats are reserved for downtown workers. This is rule by and for large property owners—the rest of us are just here to pick up the cost when it’s passed through as a rent hike.

  3. KW

    This should be paid for by tourism tax and tourism businesses and tourists. Aside from that, it’s the wrong idea and the wrong solution being overseen by the wrong people.

    • luther blissett

      Except state law says very explicitly what the tourism tax money can be spent on and it’s not this.

  4. Emma

    The bit about the public comment re: the BID not starting until 7 because Brad Barnham said they couldn’t is the opposite of what actually happened. They started taking comments at around 6:30, after having a pretty embarrassing back-and-forth about it.

    There was an awful lot of disdain towards the general public of Asheville emanating from that stage (save for Kim Roney.) I would typically feel at least somewhat bad for them, being heckled and complained at as much as they were. But with the blatant disrespect towards everyone there, evidenced by wasting hours of our time. What were they expecting?

    Such a mess. Kim was the only consistent voice of reason at that table.

  5. Hiram

    How does anyone expect these jokers to manage the BID if they can’t even properly schedule a meeting?

  6. dyfed

    1.5 M per year is enough to buy you ~15 well-trained cops plus their benefits. Or to give 150 cops a 10k raise per year—which we need to do if we ever intend to have a fully staffed police department again, since everybody else in NC pays their cops more than we do and doesn’t have political obstruction to creating any new cheap housing.

    But who am I kidding? They’re going to raise taxes and throw the money away without anyone seeing a material benefit. It’s an Asheville tradition. Down with paving streets and building bridges and culverts, up with yet another check written to a consultant who specializes in equity or sustainability or library efficiency or traffic analysis or whatever other buzzword gets our hearts aflutter this week.

  7. Nancy Alexander

    Historically, this City Council feigns interest in pubic input. They receive the public input, but if it does not fit their narrative they totally dismiss it and proceed with exactly what they had in mind to begin with. I can think of three particular incidents of this in the past year. In fact, I have twice spent hours compiling a concise, reasonable proposal for them only to find out that they may or may not even look at it.

    • indy499

      Nancy, they only look at studies prepared by consultants, generally from outside the area. Those studies then go into special binders on the shelf where proposals go to die. The nonsensical land use by the Basilica is a prime example.

  8. indy499

    The Council has already been in cahoots with the BID proponents (who launched a study for it and have the gall to now have taxpayers cover THEIR study) and this thing will be passed. It is of course, absurd.

    No council members live downtown. Downtown already pays the lions share of city property taxes and gets the fewest benefits. The council’s downtown action of late has been to:

    1. Remove the downtown police station—-you know the station that had cops on foot and bikes that knew the community and managed to keep things low key

    2. Imposed higher noise standards uniquely for downtown and well in excess of NC, US and WHO standards. Well in excess of the standards they created where they live, btw.

    3. Now going to impose a unique tax on an area that doesn’t receive the core services of policing and cleanliness that it currently pays for many times over.

    Not sure why the council hates downtown.

    • luther blissett

      “Downtown already pays the lions share of city property taxes and gets the fewest benefits.”

      1. You’ll need to show your math on that.

      2. It was APD — not City Council — that closed the downtown substation and reduced downtown patrols in 2020. In case you hadn’t noticed, American local governments do not have that much power over the police departments they fund and ostensibly control. Maybe APD was just adapting to the shortage of officers. Maybe it’s only a coincidence that it fits the nationwide trend of PDs since 2020 adjusting work patterns and enforcement activities as a screw-you to cities and city governments they consider “unsupportive.”

  9. Bright

    The great Assville Brain Trust strikes again, and even further from the target.

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