5. BIDs Come to Britain

British BIDs invest a lot in the campaign for approval, entirely by vote there.

One of the bleakest old industrial stretches on River Thames has begun in recent years to show signs of revival. Tourists may know it as the site of the re-created Globe Theatre. As the place where dozens of elevated railways converge, it is also one of the darkest areas of London, discouraging residents, shoppers, and tourists. A small group of determined businesspeople formed a business improvement district (BID) as a step toward lighting the gloomy sidewalks and providing added security. A subsequent vote on plans, costs, revenues, and management was taken and easily passed with the required number of votes from affected rate payers. Implementation currently is underway, directed by a small BID staff.

BIDs are the legal mechanisms by which property and business owners plan, manage, and share the costs of lighting and other streetscape improvements and common services-such as pavement cleaning and the presence of uniformed Wardens or Rangers-designed to make the commercial environment more profitable and properties more valuable. The success of these improvements and services is partly due to a compulsory charge levied on the benefiting businesses or properties. Now more than 30 years old in North America, the movement has produced more than a 1,000 districts, usually organized as nonprofit corporations. They have experienced success in commercial districts, large and small, with a few serving industrial areas-for example, Salzburg, Austria; Toronto Canada; Denver, Colorado; West Chester, Pennsylvania; and West Bromwich, England (one of England’s industrial BIDs).

Most BIDs are operating in the United States and Canada where the concept was first applied. Examples also exist in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. In the past two years, there has been an explosion of BIDs in England, with more expected in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Following are common characteristics of BIDs in all countries:

  • BIDs are authorized by local governments based on local plans reflecting the priorities of those who will be sharing the expenses.
  • BID plans authorize management organizations to carry out a prescribed range of projects and services. This procedure is governed by a board, which is principally made up of private sector people with some government representation.
  • BID plans typically are authorized for a maximum of five years and may be renewed at the end of the BID term.
  • Local governments must approve a compUlsory charge on the benefiting businesses (or properties in the United States) that is accepted as fair and adequate for their needs.
  • Most BIDs hire a professional person or a small staff team to rnanage day-to-day operations and to help businesses.

In Britain, the compulsory charge is in the form of an additional tax on businesses; in the United States, it is an assessment on commercial properties.

What accounts for the rapid growth of BIDs in England? Initially, BIDs had been preceded by more than a decade of privately financed “safe and clean” programs operating in hundreds of business centers. This town centers management movement produced a network involving more than 200 communities offering highly visible and popular supplementary services, including uniformed, unarmed “wardens” providing reassurance, emergency help, and local information to shoppers and visitors. Financing typically depended on voluntary contributions from businesses, which often were national chains like Boots the Chemist and Marks & Spencer, as well as on annual contributions from local governments. The services were popular, but budgets were small and contributions proved unreliable. Many benefiting businesses failed to contribute.

From this experience came two conclusions:

  • Voluntary contributions do not produce a fair and reliable revenue source.
  • Common services, local initiatives, and business leadership constitute a successful revitalization formula, popular among business operators and local councils. Independent research indicates that most places that have such business districts experience economic gains, adding footfall and stronger businesses.

A decade ago, England’s Association for Town Centre Management (ATCM) studied BID experience in North America, and proposed BID legislation-often referred to as the

“antifreeloader” bill-in the United Kingdom. Visiting BID experts from Canada, the United States, and South Africa provided useful information and data at conferences in Britain. Trips were organized to visit established BIDs at work and leam about their costs and benefits. A campaign for national legislation was launched. Interested organizations providing technical assistance include the Circle Initiative in London, British BIDs, Partnership Solutions, and the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA). Before Parliament enacted the bill, ATCM organized a pilot project involving 22 prospective BIDs around the country to illustrate and test BID-like programs, making clear by these examples what British BIDs could be. In London, a half dozen more pilot projects were launched.

A number of commercial and industrial districts sought approval under the new law when it was enacted. BID organizers created brochures to explain to prospective rate payers the plans on which they would vote and the outcomes expected of BIDs locally. Face-to-face contacts with prospective rate payers usually produced the necessary number of voters and a high proportion of favorable votes.

In the first two-and-a-half years, more than 60 English BIDs were voted in, 14 of which are located in industrial areas. Most American BIDs operate in small commercial districts, but proportionately fewer in industrial areas.

Technical assistance is available for startup BIDs and for BIDs already in operation, including a national BID newsletter, shared research, and conferences targeted to topics of greatest concem to BID managers and board members. Some topics include performance measurements; a survey of ballot and billing practices, pooling resources to make management more efficient; preparation of ”The London BID Toolkit”; organization of a common database; structuring of an annual evaluation process; creation of a BID pension system; a newsletter as a tool; funding opportunities beyond the BID levy; research on ballot and billing experience; and an up-to-date listing of job opportunities in the growing number of BIDs.

The cooperating nongovemmental organizations (NGOs) advised on and advocated successfully for national BID legislation, mobilized public support for it, and helped local sponsors before and after the BID legislation was enacted. In contrast, proposers of BIDs in North America were on their own in the beginning and without examples to point to. Early BID sponsors in North America had to secure passage of state and provincial laws as well as local ordinances. Forty-nine states now have more than 50 different requirements as some states have more than one law. Many state statutes read as if the legislators were proposing to protect businesses from BIDs, rather than enable them to plan and finance BID improvements.

As evidence of support for BIDs among potential rate payers, Britain requires a special referendum. To be valid, a specified share of potential businesses must in fact vote and of those a majority must approve the BID. About 10 percent are voted down-about the same number as are estimated to be abandoned in the United States during planning. Recently, Shrewsbury and Oxford BID proposals were defeated. Most sponsors, such as the industrial BID in West Bromwich, organize a system of contacts (and sometimes revisits) by business operators who are themselves potential rate payers. Volunteers keep track of the results of this advocacy among peers-recording who is a supporter, who is opposed, and who is uncertain.

Several factors contributed to this early success:

  • The main BID services-safety, cleanup, and marketing-were highly visible in pre-BID models throughout the country.
  • With a single law, the educating of organizations and potential sponsors was simplified.
  • Several national organizations helped prepare the English BID law and supported its enactment. Experienced BID leaders from other countries were brought to the U.K. to explain BID challenges and successes. Teams of BID supporters were sent to Canada, the United States, and South Africa to witness operating BIDs.
  • High-quality technical assistance on timely topics continues to be available.

The BID movement in Britain has been quickly organized and has produced locally relevant innovations. District service areas in large cities tend to emphasize solutions that are specific to small urban subsections with boards of directors that focus on places like London’s West End, with its own mix of needs and opportunities. The chairman of the liverpool BID board of directors and the BID executive, for example, have a clear strategy for revitalizing the old commercial area, integrating it with a large new retail complex and the historic waterfront. In all, BIDs have brought a new sense of business responsibility to England’s commercial and industrial centers.

A London BID along the Thames as an easy to remember name.

Liverpool, England's BID proposal failed in the first try, but passed in the second.

The schematic map was used to illustrate the service area ad the properties and businesses to be benefitted by London's Holborn BID

%d bloggers like this: