42. Innovations: Not Your Usual BIDs

The purpose of BIDs is to improve local economic conditions  and opportunities, increasing business profitability and property values. Too many BIDs, however, equate being busy with fulfilling these purposes.

Many BIDs finance sidewalk cleaning, supplemental security and marketing  because they believe that BIDs by definition are these services.  Others see cleaning and, security as easy to sell because everyone understands them. A lot of BID planning  becomes a discussion of how much does a sweeper cost. Some assume that there are no important local differences in needs and opportunities that BIDs can effectively treat.

Some BID planners, however,  have devoted thoughtful consideration to local needs, opportunities and  potential. The elements of improvement districts—compulsory charges, management by private sector stakeholders—are potentially more widely adapted and applied than has been the case. The sidewalk cleaning examples are everywhere and the imagination applied to BID planning is limited. Here are

In this chapter, the innovation examples are arbitrarily categorized  according to BID size, large and small.

Large BIDs

Frequent Services–Large BIDs with annual revenues up to several million dollars tend to be located in high foot traffic centers and were born with widespread concern about filth and fear. These conditions typically result in substantial investments in uniformed supplementary security and hospitality personnel and in litter removal. The fiscal advantages of large urban BIDs enables them to finance  these two labor intensive services. Radio equipped security-hospitality personnel can cost $35,000 per personnel unit per year including salaries, training, supervision, uniforms and equipment. These services are popular with business and property owners and with the pedestrian public. Cleaning and security typically consumer two thirds of the annual budgets of large BIDs.

Extraordinary Services–Large BIDs also typically allocate about a third of their revenues to customer and sometimes business attraction, some with remarkably imaginative programs and successful results. Some of the best financed ones emphasize attracting and retaining office businesses whose employees can spend $3,000 apiece yearly in  local shops and restaurants(see Marketing chapter).

Helping Businesses–Some large BIDs have campaigned successfully for more night shopping and dining by residents and employees, competing successfully with out of town shopping centers and television at home. Using skills of professional marketers, large BIDs organize popular public events keyed to special retail needs. The New Year’s Eve celebration at Times Square has become a global event with BID enhancements.

Physical Improvements—Several BIDs have led their city governments in  proposing capital improvements designed to make the District more pedestrian friendly. Some have themselves financed upward of 200 pedestrian scale lights to brighten sidewalks and have installed and maintained flowers and shrubs to lessen the view of unsightly parking lots. A large BID was formed  for the purpose of renovating and managing an urban park. This clean and safe place has become the site of New York’s Fashion Week, attracting thousands of visitors. Three  large BIDs identified the need for, organized the planning and provided partial  financing for Downtown bus systems that move shoppers, tourists, residents and employees among destinations not otherwise served .The Rosslyn BID in Arlington,VA have established a bus connection to the the Dupont Circle METRO station in Washington, DC with ten minute headways. The BID is seeking funds from the area transportation agency and the two local governments to maintain this favorable schedule.

Three BIDs in Manhattan combined resources with the city to create new parks at Times Square, using surplus space previously  used by motor vehicles. Despite the unusual location, they have been highly popular lunch spots far from other parks.

Planning, Research and Advocacy–BIDs usually have an agenda of desired changes in municipal procedures or priorities for capital improvements, all in the interest of making businesses more profitable and commercial properties more valuable. Some  have successfully campaigned for (and financed) “community courts” where persons  convicted of minor crimes, including vandalism, are assigned to tasks that often include removing graffiti or painting fixtures such as light poles. Some have hired top design experts to lead public planning or replaning of neglected public spaces. One BID ‘s non profit affiliate produced an action plan for dealing with traffic congestion, producing an attractive and persuasive report entitled, “Managing Progress”. A few serve as official advisors to planning bodies.

More than a decade ago, Philadelphia’s Center City District and its non profit affiliate began a program to attract residents,  introduced the ten year tax abatement for new residential  earlier pioneered by the Association for Downtown New York and conducted a pilot project to convert the upper floors of older retail buildings to apartments. The BID regularly surveys residents within the district and in adjacent neighborhoods. Some of the results of recent surveys include these findings:

1. There  are about 90,000 residents in Center City, up14% since 2000. About half comprised single person households and almost 10% included children;

2. About 20% were 55 years or older;

3. About 25% occupied either condos or single family (mainly attached) homes and about half occupied apartments.

4. Approximately 20% were over age 55; 28% under 25 and 23% in the 25-34 range.

5. Asked about exercise, 58% said biking, 50% reported biking , 36% said exercising at home, 26% walking dog and 23% running/jogging.

6. Asked what it would take to get them to walk to work more (half now walk to work), these led the suggestions:  improve sidewalks, enforce traffic and bike laws, boost pedestrian lighting, add trees and  mark pedestrian crosswalks better.

7. What public improvements would induce more exercise? Responses included: walking trails easier to get to, remove pot holes in  bike lanes, well marked bike lanes on select streets, more safe, secure bike racks. What changes would most improve the district as a place to live? “Reduce the number of homeless lying in public places and the number of panhandlers.”

8.The number of births in Center City jumped by 7.8% (a rate seven times that in the rest of the city) between 2000 and 2007, a total of 11, 372.

9. The report included this prediction: ask more move to and near the commercial center “a new constituency is emerging for improved pubic transit and  bicycle connections”

10. Will it last? CCD reports that Philadelphia had the lowest rate of  foreclosures of the top ten metro regions.

Feeling Safer— Where employers operate late at night, some BIDs provide an escort system, connecting workers with transit or parking. Some run valet parking services for restaurants and theatres after dark.  Some States authorize BIDs to float bonds for physical improvements; hundreds of bright, pedestrian scale lights were financed by one BID, part of a larger strategy to encourage more after dark commerce. The Downtown Washington DC BID was a pioneer in helping social services agencies treat the problems of panhandling and the homeless population. Center City District in Philadelphia was formed with a close partnership with city police. Out of this came a reorganization of the police precincts, earlier divided up the middle of the BID service area. Today, BID supplementary security personnel stand roll call with police in a unified district, perhaps the most effective working partnership among all BIDs.

Appealing to Residents—University City District with a large residential population has organized “youcie”, Young Friends of University City, encouraging anyone over 21 to “connect, interact and explore” the district’s diverse cultural, social and community service offerings. This BID venture is an element in the city’s effort to retain post university adults as residents. UCD also offers local organizations a low cost  opportunity to display streetside banners promoting events and institutions.

Smaller BIDs

Many of these BIDs are in suburban and small city locations where little cleaning and security attention is needed (or affordable); business and customer attraction are the main priorities. Example: one BID managed to attract several restaurants, residential tenants and a gym to a nearly abandoned area near the canal by simply positioning musicians on the street corner several nights a week for more than a year. Crowds gathered at the two remaining bars, spilling onto the sidewalks. Additional bars, restaurants and a gym followed the crowds. Seeing the new life there a major investor created a large, mixed use project with shops, more restaurants and entertainment.

Salzburg, Austria’s BID is partially financed by the city government matching a BID business tax entirely devoted to advancing tourism in the popular older section of the city.

London’s Better Bankside  BID is using public art and additional lighting to brighten a principal street always in shadows because it passes under a large railroad viaduct. The same BID purchased and distributed hundreds of bright pink chairs to restaurants to encourage more sidewalk dining.

A small BID in a Western State acquired an empty commercial building and with government grants modernized it, creating retail space on the first floor, office space for rent on floors two and three and BID headquarters on the top floor. This is a good example of a non profit entity with a for profit attitude. The rents helped expand BID financing for other projects.

A neighborhood BID in Philadelphia raised funds beyond its assessment revenues by sponsoring popular special events, including an annual art exhibit that attracts tens of thousands. Private vendors drawn by throngs of consumers pay fees to the BID for permission to sell their wares. This BID made a deal with the City enabling the BID to repair, maintain and operate two parking lots and to keep the parking fees. Audits revealed that the lots have been more profitable under BID management than they were under City control. Further, the BID applies local business priorities to the management and charges for parking in these two lots previously limited by inflexible pricing.

A BID in a New Jersey suburb found that only 20 plus businesses were open on Sundays, a popular day for shopping in the US, but one in which few shops are open in most BIDs. The BID manager, a man with considerable private sector experience, launched a campaign to induce more operators to stay open. He invested heavily in advertising to make sure potential customers understood the changed policy; paid musicians to play throughout Downtown during Sunday store hours; organized promotions that resulted in discounted prices

and twisted a lot of arms. After the extensive test period, some of the early skeptics admitted that Sunday had become their second most profitable day.

Another small town BID faced the potential loss of its cinema. The operator said that the cost of renovations were beyond their capacity. The theatre, offering popular second run films, was an important anchor, operating almost every day and night of the year. The innovative BID had funds for commercial façade improvements. It successfully convinced the owners to match the BID funds for essential renovations and to keep the theatre operating. This prized commercial anchor was preserved.

Several BIDs have authorized their business attraction committees to provide $5,000 bonuses to realtors or owners for bringing a desired new tenant to the district.

In Trenton, NJ, the BID created a popular annual winter holiday, celebrating a rare victory by colonial general George Washington. Celebrations and portrayals go on for days. The same BID, offered long empty retail space, invited a half dozen gift, florist and antique shops to set up temporary stores in the pre-Christmas weeks. The trial was so successful that three of the shops remain as year round tenants.

One BID, born to overcome 30% retail vacancies in a declining mill district, became a tourist destination with new restaurants and specialty shops. After a decade or more, the crowds began to go to more recent trend setters. The BID then worked to add a new niche—furniture—building on a few existing stores, and promoted additional residential. Further, the BID led in upgrading the old canal and the river edge as  attractions for residents and visitors.

Another small BID, Downtown Hampton, VA., (along with Albany, NY) offers a summer sculpture garden as a customer attraction. Hampton’s small retail area was joined  with the substantial customer potential of the adjacent harbor in a BID with reciprocal interests. Commercial property values rose 18% in the initial authorization period and the district attracted 25 new businesses, partly through bonuses to realtors, developers and owners who produced desired enterprises.

A BID in Toronto’s Chinatown created a district wide rodent control program. Another Toronto BID worked out a plan whereby the city provided $25million to cover construction costs for a beautification project. A second, temporary BID was created in order to assure repayment to the city for its cost share. Under applicable law, BIDs do not have the authority to borrow.

Two neighborhood commercial areas in a large city applied for and received help from 150 college students for Fall cleanups.

Plagued with acres of unsightly vacant lots, Atlantic City’s BID converted them into small flowery parks, each with a sign indicating that this attractive place is for sale with the name and phone number of the broker or owner.

Plagued by multiple daylight burglaries, a suburban BID developed a computerized message system to alert other merchants as well as police when robberies or threats occur.

Small BIDs emphasize activities that cost little. Volunteers from the business or sometimes the residential communities may participate in committees devoted to beautification plans or evening security monitoring. Designing and overseeing marketing can attract very talented volunteers to this BID function.

Millburn, NJ’s BID managed a low cost research program, polling operators, property owners and residents annually. More than 600 responses from residents were mailed back, telllng the BID that people liked retail service. In the second year, the share rating the district very good or good increased from 52 to 64%. Parking complaints led to a commitment to work more vigorously with the municipal government

Bridgeport, CN BID purchased a used gumbuster machine on e-BAY at a fraction of the cost of a new one .

Some have created elaborate systems of sponsorships by which local firms may pay for and have their names attached to colorful banners that identify the BID service area. Similarly, some offer advertising space in their newsletters. Corporate sponsors may provide some or all of the costs of a festival or art event.

Some BIDs  actively help prospective new businesses trying to negotiate the government’s sometimes intricate and confusing regulations affecting land and improvements. Others seek to streamline these rules, negotiating with government regulators.

Others encourage private initiatives through annual recognition awards for improvements to commercial building exteriors or for volunteer work by business people. In some communities, BIDs are represented on official planning bodies where the service area is affected by public planning. Two BIDs helped trigger a residential boom by advocating a property tax reduction for new and renovated construction.

BIDs can differ in how they are financed. One western government offered the BID a foundation level of financing, plus a share of the increased business taxes collected. While local governments and foundations rarely award money for safe, clean and marketing expenses, BIDs do compete vigorously for capital funds for limited purposes (eg., façade improvements). Finding funds for interior renovations, a frequent need of new businesses, is more difficult outside of assessment revenues.

Dublin, IR combined the benefits of large and small BIDs revealed in their study of US BIDs. The retail oriented Central Dublin Commercial Association

created a central management structure and places operations in commercial districts. The first sets policy, works with the city government, pays bills and rents and handles insurance. The sub areas oversee BID services including safe and clean systems (see Ireland, Germany chapter).

The most effective BIDs are those that reject the one-size-fits-all model, with planners considering the area’s special needs, opportunities and potential capabilities.

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