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The 200 block of King Street in Old Town, Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

(Updated 3:40 p.m.) To get a business improvement district (BID) approved for Old Town, proponents will need the support of 60% of properties in the proposed zone. But a new change could cut property owners who don’t engage at all out of that 60% requirement.

City Council member John Chapman said after outreach was done for the Old Town BID there were over 200 property owners that never responded either in favor or against the proposal.

Currently, not weighing in on the project is tantamount to not supporting it.

“Those business owners wanted to look at adjusting the way we were doing counting to not qualify those individuals for counting toward the percentage of property owners that were either for or against the BID,” Chapman said.

While the proposed BID would get a leg up by not counting absent property owners in that 60% requirement, previous attempts at getting the BID going have faced active community backlash at times.

While many on the City Council expressed their support for that change, Chapman said the city should do more outreach to those property owners first for “another opportunity to have their voices heard for or against the creation of a business improvement district.”

“The goal is to engage those individuals, if they remain not voting at all, that their property would not count toward whether or not we do a BID,” Chapman said. “We do not want those who do not engage with this process to count against this process.”

Others on the City Council generally expressed support for the change. City Council member Sarah Bagley said she’s heard from businesses that support the idea of the BID but have absentee owners who don’t weigh in one way or the other.

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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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Map of the proposed Old Town Business Improvement Service District (via Old Town Business)

With the clock running down on a rushed timeline, Old Town Business (OTB) is conducting more outreach sessions today, Friday, on its proposed business improvement district.

The group conducted information sessions yesterday (Thursday) and scheduled one for this morning and another for 1 p.m. along the ALX Community Waterfront at 201 N. Union Street.

“We’re running into a deadline for this year’s tax calendar,” Scott Shaw, a managing partner of Alexandria Restaurant Partners, previously told ALXnow. “We’re compressing this more than we want to, we’re aware of that.”

The group of local business owners are trying to gather 60% support from hundreds of Old Town restaurants, shops and other retailers by mid-March. Organizers are operating on a crunched timeline to get their proposal on the City Council docket this month, before the city sets the tax rate for the upcoming budget, which must be approved in May.

OTB wants the effort to be funded by a 10-cent addition to real property tax rates for businesses within the proposed district.

“For example, a parcel that has a taxable value of $700,000 that currently pays $7,770 in annual property taxes would be billed an additional $700 for a new total of $8,470,” OTB explains in its petition. “Parcels of real property which are either exempt from real property taxes or strictly residential in use, as determined by the City on an annual basis, shall not be billed the annual BISD tax.”

Those funds would then go toward events, marketing, business support services, advocacy and more.

Per the proposal, the Business Improvement Service District (BISD) would be overseen by 13-to-15 board members, all of whom would be approved by City Council. Board meetings would also be open to the public.

A message from Old Town Business on its BISD efforts (via Old Town Business)

via Old Town Business

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Earlier this week, Old Town Business debuted new plans for a Business Improvement District along King Street.

The new effort comes after multiple earlier efforts to get a BID launched for Old Town, but BID proponents highlighted at a meeting earlier this week that this effort will be different.

Scott Shaw, managing partner of Alexandria Restaurant Partners, said the new BID is both smaller in scale than earlier efforts. The BID would focus on organizing events, marketing Old Town at a regional level, and doing more “placemaking” like banners, wayfinding and outdoor programming. The BID would also be focused on King Street primarily, while previous BIDs have included extended sections along other streets in Old Town.

Shaw said the BID could also help advocate and organize to tackle Old Town’s parking problems. In particular, the BID could work with owners of underutilized parking lots or parking garages to find parking solutions for businesses — ensuring workers have lots to park in rather than parking on the street.

BID proponents say the district could help pick up on work the volunteer-led Old Town Business has been doing for commercial tenants along King Street.

The City council approved a framework last year that said a BID needs 60% of commercial property owners to sign their support. This week, BID proponents said they’ve gotten pledges of support from property owners representing 100 of the 300 parcels they’ll need to get to 60%.

But another challenge facing this BID is a tight timeline. Old Town Business leaders said they’re eager to have the BID included in this tax year, which means the BID only had until mid-March to get the support it needs to make it onto the City Council docket.

The next in-person meeting is on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Lorien Hotel (1600 King Street) with public information sessions throughout the day.

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Shopping in Old Town (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

After years of doing marketing and advocating for local businesses, members of the volunteer-run group Old Town Business say they’re tired — and ready for a Business Improvement District (BID) to take over.

In the first public meeting about a possible BID, leaders of Old Town Business made a case for the district as the only sustainable path forward for businesses running along King Street “from the rails to the water.”

But they only have a month to make that case to Old Town’s property owners.

According to a framework approved last year, a BID needs 60% of commercial property owners to sign their support. There are 1,000 parcels within the scope of the BID, around 490 or 500 of those are part of the funding framework. So of those parcels, the BID supporters need to get the owners of 300 parcels to sign on in support.

Currently, proponents said there are around 100 property owners who have pledged to support the BID, though they admit many of those are the larger landowners who were the “low-hanging fruit” for a proposal like this.

Now begins the more difficult step of getting individual property owners to sign on, some of whom are concerned such an organization may be too focused on events.

But the biggest issue for proponents of the BID could prove to be timing. A city-hired lawyer working with the BID proponents would need to have 60% support by mid-March to get the proposal on the City docket for later in March. With the public outreach starting today (Wednesday), that gives BID supporters around one month to get the majority of the stakeholders on their side.

Scott Shaw, managing partner of Alexandria Restaurant Partners, admitted that the BID proponents would have liked a few more weeks to get support.

“There were delays on the City Council side,” Shaw said. “We’re running into a deadline for this year’s tax calendar… We’re compressing this more than we want to, we’re aware of that.”

The BID, officially called the Old Town Business — Business Improvement Service District (OTB-BISD), would span from the King Street Metro station to waterfront, including some businesses along the waterfront and on Diagonal Road by the Metro station. It would help organize and market events at a regional level and do more “placemaking” like banners, wayfinding and outdoor programming.

Amy Rutherford, Board president at Old Town Businesses, said the BID would focus on marketing to regional neighbors, like getting the word out in Arlington or Silver Spring about activities planned in Old Town.

While full beautification efforts are beyond the scope of what’s planned for the BID, she said the BID could handle things like installing maps pointing to local coffee shops or clearing cigarette butts out of the sidewalks.

“We’re a high-end community, we can do better to clean up our streets,” said Rutherford.

Shaw said the BID would also be tasked with tackling Old Town’s parking problems, working on solutions to get more employees off street parking and into parking garages and underused lots. But he emphasized the organization won’t be a stand-in for city government.

“We’re not doing anything the City or [Visit Alexandria] are doing,” said Shaw. “We don’t want to be Georgetown, where the BID does things the city should be doing.”

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Time and time again, a group of business owners has pushed the Old Town Business Improvement District (BID) boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down again.

Now, a group called Old Town Business is trying — again — to get the boulder to the top.

“Old Town’s oldest business organization, Old Town Business (OTB) is leading the renewed efforts to establish a business improvement service district in Old Town Alexandria,” the group said in a release. “The organization, which has been advocating and hosting programs and events that benefit the community and independent businesses for over 40 years, has been preparing a detailed plan for the business improvement service district, including the district’s boundaries, the service offerings and the governance mechanisms.”

There are multiple BIDs in Arlington and Washington, D.C. There have been repeated efforts to get a BID launched in Old Town. The most recent — and the closest to success — was in 2017, but after the proposal was met with vocal opposition, city leaders voted to send the plan back to the drawing board where it ultimately withered away.

To Old Town Business’ credit, there are some signs that this time may be different. Approval of a BID concept was slipped into American Rescue Plan Act funding and basic guidelines to put together a BID were approved at the City Council in 2022. The City Council has also seen significant turnover since 2017, with only Mayor Justin Wilson and City Council member John Chapman remaining from the original vote.

Proposed BID map (image courtesy Old Town Business)

But to get a BID approved, it still needs approval from 60% of businesses within the boundary of the proposed BID. This is, historically, where past BID efforts have floundered. Many brick-and-mortar business owners, already feeling a strain from competition against online sales, have been roiled by the idea of an additional tax.

The Old Town Business website said the new BID would be funded by a $0.10 service district tax added onto the real property tax — currently $1.11.

“For example, a parcel that has a taxable value of $700,000 that currently pays $7,770 in annual property taxes would be billed an additional $700 for a new total of $8,470,” the website said.

While the BID offers improvements such as enhancements to public spaces and activities — during the last BID campaign, many local businesses pushed back and said those are roles that groups like the city-funded Visit Alexandria should be filling. The Old Town Business website said the BID would help run events and do marketing for Old Town, among other services.

Now, Old Town Business is launching a marketing campaign for the BID to try to drum up support. According to the release:

The proposed BISD (to be named the Old Town Business – Business Improvement Service District, or OTB-BISD) aims to focus on improving the experience for employees, visitors and residents within the boundaries of the OTB-BISD and to protect and grow the economy of the OTB-BISD for the benefit of business owners, property owners and residents.

The proposed boundaries of the OTB-BISD create a limited district area running from the “river to the rails,” which would include parcels that (i) have frontage along King Street between the Potomac River and the King Street Metro; (ii) are east of Union Street, between Queen Street and Wolfe Street; (iii) have frontage on the west side of Union Street between Queen Street and Duke Street; (iv) have frontage along Diagonal Street between King Street and Duke Street or (v) have frontage along the streets which intersect with King Street, between Prince Street and Cameron Street (the north/south component of Cameron Street, at its western end, shall be considered a side street).

The group has launched a petition that can be signed by local property owners and a forum for non-property owners to offer support.

Old Town Businesses is hosting a series of outreach meetings this month, including:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 15 — In Person, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
    Lorien Hotel & Spa, 1600 King Street, Alexandria
  • Wednesday, Feb. 15 — Virtual Zoom Meeting, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 22 — In Person Meetings, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Noon-1:00 p.m., 4-5 p.m
    Lorien Hotel & Spa, 1600 King Street, Alexandria
  • Wednesday, Feb. 22 — Virtual Zoom Meeting, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
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Alexandria’s City Council recently approved guidelines for the creation of new Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), self-taxed commercial areas where a new organization could be dedicated to turning the area into a commercial destination.

The approval comes five years after a proposed BID in Old Town divided local businesses and was ultimately sent back to the drawing board by the City Council.

BIDs have been up and running for years in nearby localities like Arlington and D.C. While BIDs organize activities and help provide amenities above what the city would ordinarily offer, many businesses along King Street said they were concerned about the additional taxes a BID would impose.

Now Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, said it’s possible that BIDs could be incorporated into new development around Landmark and the West End. The prospect also seems to have more support from the City Council this time around.

“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said at the meeting. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”

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