Rabu, 26 September 2012

Anacostia's BID a Bit Closer to Reality

The neighborhood of Anacostia has been slow to take off commercially (though making progress), and much like the expectations for a thriving commercial neighborhood, its Business Improvement District may be close to becoming a reality too.

The neighborhood itself has struggled to attract private businesses and office workers, in part because it lacks nearby services and retail.  Service and retail providers in turn have had little incentive to open shop in Anacostia until more businesses and consumers are on the street.  That conundrum is reflected in the embryonic BID formation.  While corporations typically sponsor the BIDs that promote doing business in the neighborhood, that lack of commerce has hindered the Anacostia BID's formation.  Though landowners in the area point to much potential - a historic downtown, a Metro stop, the coming St. Elizabeths project - without a corporate base to fund the BID, lack of money has kept Anacostia's promoter-in-chief from becoming a reality.  That may be starting to change.

The group met last month to appoint ten board members, and will now be funded by a portion of property taxes from local landowners, but the group will have to wait until tax collections occur in March before it can hire a staff and rent a permanent space.

But that’s still a big step forward for a group that’s been pending for years. In 2008, Councilmember Barry sponsored legislation that would allow the area to create a Business Improvement District. It passed, but the business and property owners behind the effort had several hurdles to overcome before the organization could become a reality.

BIDs in DC, while classified as nonprofit organizations, can’t solicit foundation grants. And when DC’s Office of Tax and Revenue and the Department of Small and Local Business Development reviewed the Anacostia BID's business plan - as required as part of the enabling legislation - they didn’t think it was sustainable.

“So we took a break, got a pro bono counsel, and hired consultants to file paperwork, petition the IRS, and get approval to establish a BID out of the 501(c)3,” explained Stan Voudrie of Four Points Development, the group’s new board president. “It took a lot of time; we were doing it with volunteers.” But eventually, he added, the IRS approved of the group’s new status and the various city agencies signed off on the BID’s new business plan.

Other than Voudrie, the board is composed of representatives from 1918 LLP, Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, ARCH Development Corporation, EDC LLC, Grubb’s Southeast Pharmacy, Honfleur Gallery, Industrial Bank,
NSC, Inc., and Urban City Ventures.

Voudrie says the group will use the time between now and March to prepare for their next steps. After hiring a director and renting a permanent office space, the first order of business will be to increase basic services in the business district, particularly from a visual perspective. “All of the BIDs”—there are eight others in the city—“have that kind of program,” said Voudrie. That means increasing trash pickup, sweeping streets and sidewalks, and planting flowers.

Second, the organization will focus on marketing and business outreach, acting like a local chamber of commerce. “We'll reach out to retailers that we think would bring a service the community would appreciate,” said Voudrie. “We want to be a single clearinghouse where people can find out about opportunities in the neighborhood.” 

And by the same token, the group will allow local business and property owners to speak with a unified voice, addressing issues that might need attention from the city or other institutions.

What the BID won’t be doing, according to Voudrie, is independently establishing a vision for what the neighborhood should look like. “We’ll probably do surveys of people who live and work here to find out their interests, but we won’t tell people what we think they need,” he said.

So all that talk about Anacostia becoming the city’s next arts district might not be on the BID agenda, at least for now, but such ideas might soon be more likely to become reality.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified DC BIDs as not being nonprofit organizations; they are, but are not 501(c)3s. Additionally, the new board has 10 members, not five.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

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