Every city wants a vibrant downtown filled with clean, safe, well-lit streets, thriving businesses and vibrant nightlife.
Some property owners are even willing to pay additional taxes to enhance public safety, landscaping and economic development activities. Since the approval of AB 103 in 1965, 200 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have formed throughout the state as cities large and small attempt to meet the needs of mainly downtown businesses with tax increment financing.
San Diego wins the prize for the largest with more than $1 million raised annually. Some are more effective than others, however. In an attempt to collect best practices, we polled BID directors and experts and present the top five tips for improving Business Improvement Districts.
1. Reach Out
Jerry Vorpahl, executive director of the Power Inn Alliance, a Property and Business Improvement District in Sacramento tries to get off his street from time to time to interact with regional groups.
“I make it a priority to reach out to community, business, media and civic leaders,” Vorpahl says. “Even if we are suing the city, county and state over a proposed landfill, we are still close.”
Chuck Dalldorf, regional public affairs manager for the League of California Cities, North Bay, agrees with the need to reach out to neighborhood associations, environmental nonprofits and arts organizations.
“Think broadly when building a coalition for support before you need the help!”
2. Make eFriends
Mary Coburn, operations manager of the Downtown Long Beach Business Improvement District and Property-Based Improvement District, stresses the need for communication with members in all forms – Twitter, Facebook, email and even snail mail. Downtownlongbeach.org features a private stakeholders section with contests.
“We have to be able to communicate with people to let them know when there are going to be street closures for movie filmings,” Coburn says.
3. Get a Cape
One of the most common BID roles, after planting pansies in median strips, is fighting crime. Many districts hire private security with varying results.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that BIDs in Los Angeles were able to reduce violent crime by 8 percent and robberies by 12 percent.
4. Know When to Say When
A Cornell University study by Mildred Warner and company titled “Business Improvement Districts: Issues in Alternative Local Public Service Provision” addressing the challenge of accountability in BIDS suggests establishing a sunset clause that requires a BID charter to be renewed regularly.
“Term limits ensure a degree of accountability to the BID property owner constituents.”
5. Take Care of Business
Finally, Vorpahl suggests doing what you were created to do – improving business.
“Community projects may be good things, but you have to focus on helping businesses grow, hire people and give back in the form of taxes.”