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Old Town Business Improvement District finishing March with 2/3 of the support it needs

Lower King Street, closed to traffic (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The team behind the proposed Old Town Business Improvement District (BID) is giving itself a few more months to get the project the support it needs.

Per new guidelines approved by the City Council last year, the BID proposal will need support from 60% of the properties within the district’s boundaries, which mostly runs along King Street.

Back in February, a city-hired lawyer working with the BID proponents said they would need to have those votes of support in the bag by mid-March to get the proposal on this year’s budget. That March deadline would have allowed the city to include the budget in public hearings in April before budget approval on May 3.

But as of Wednesday, March 29, the proposal doesn’t have quite the amount of support it needs.

“The timeline is now the end of May (May 31),” said Maurisa Potts, founder and CEO of Spotted MP Marketing and Public Relations. “We are 2/3 of the way to getting the 60% of the votes. We are extending our public meetings over the next few weeks.”

While that end-of-May timeline misses the cut-off for the FY 2024 budget, the potential for an Old Town BID has come up multiple times in City Hall meetings, from budget workshops to yesterday’s City Council meeting.

At a budget work session last week, City Council members expressed concerns about empty storefronts in Old Town. Alexandria Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Stephanie Landrum said those concerns are an issue that would be best addressed by a BID.

According to Landrum:

What you see on King Street is not what the stats would tell you. While we see vacancies, many of those vacancies are already leased. There’s a long period of time between when somebody closes  and when the new place opens, but it’s technically only vacant for a short period of time. Someone comes in and they have go through the permitting process, they have to do their marketing,  hiring etc. Most of the vacancies around City Hall are spoken for, they’re not vacant…

Many years ago we proposed a program where we would put a sign in the window like ‘coming soon’. What we found was that the money spent and the effort spent to get a permit in place to put up a temporary sign didn’t really support that effort. We have talked through this before.

This work is a lot of what a Business Improvement Districts do and they’re better equipped to move at the kind of speed in real time and they would coordinate things like that. When you go to other parts of this region and you likely see this sort of stuff, usually it’s done by a BID.

Landrum was backed up by City Manager Jim Parajon, who said successful BIDs can create a tangible sales tax increase.

“In my experience with BIDs, you’ll see a relatively strong sales tax rate increase and you’ll also see an appreciation in the values of the property,” Parajon said. “Those are two things I’ve seen consistently in a well-put-together BID.”

At a City Council meeting last night, it was noted that the Waterfront Commission had previously endorsed the proposed BID.

Old Town Business, which has been spearheading the BID effort, announced a series of virtual public meetings this week and throughout April.

According to the website, those meetings are scheduled for:

  • Thursday, March 30: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 6: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 13: 6:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 20: 6:30-7:30 p.m.

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