Asheville Approves Downtown Bid - TribPapers

Asheville Approves Downtown Bid

Revised BID Boundary, updated April 17. Screenshot.

Asheville – On the agenda of last Tuesday’s Asheville City Council meeting was the second reading for creating the Business Improvement District (BID) downtown. Mayor Esther Manheimer began the discussion by saying that the idea of the BID had come to council via a task force created by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Asheville Downtown Association.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “a member of the task force was targeted this last week and their car was vandalized and their tires were slashed, and so the task force, which is a volunteer group, is obviously not feeling safe and so will not be here tonight to speak on this item, but of course wanted me to convey that they would not be here but of course support the project.” Councilwoman Maggie Ullman echoed the mayor’s sentiments about intimidation chilling volunteer participation in local government.

Many who did speak characterized the BID as racist and colonialist. They made fun of how the word “nimble” was overused in the BID documents, and they said the word “safe” was synonymous with “racist.” Several said Asheville’s quirkiness was what made it so endearing. They didn’t want to have young vigilantes on bicycles chasing them down because they were different. Hotels, they said, were marginalizing artists.

Paul Howell asked council, “How come you want to keep putting money into outside resources and people, whatever, whatnot? We got resources here. We got a fire department here that needs money. We got a police department here that needs money. Pay the people we got here!”

Jonathan Wainscott was among those to criticize the BID as being rammed through with inadequate consideration. One example, he said, was an eleventh-hour clarification that personal property would be taxed as well as real property. He pointed out that, if approved, some people downtown would be paying BID, City of Asheville, Asheville Schools, and Buncombe County taxes. “We don’t have enough money for trash cans getting emptied. We have too much money to spend on advertising,” he said, criticizing the “stack of money to the moon” collected by the Tourism Development Authority.

The arguments had been emotional, so Councilwoman Sage Turner put some numbers on the table. She had pulled tax records and calculated that Ben and Jerry’s would pay $34/month for the BID, and Green Sage would pay $54/month. The Renaissance Hotel, however, would pay $2,650/month. As for firefighter compensation, she said that in 2021, firefighters were fighting for $31,200. This year’s budget proposed increasing the lowest salaries for on-shift firefighters and police to $50,309.

Council wanted the BID board to be subject to open records laws, but Kim Roney said people are still waiting to obtain documents for which they filed open records requests six months ago. So, the language was changed to say these records, including all steering committee applications, would be made available. Also, city council would approve appointments to the BID’s steering committee as well as the BID’s annual budget. Council also worked to make sure seven property renters would be seated at the table. The concern was that owners would support projects that priced low-revenue tenants out of the city. Councilwoman Antanette Mosley wanted to make sure the BID abided by the same standards as the rest of the city for contracting with Minority/Women Business Enterprises.

BIDs for downtown Asheville have been rejected in the past. This proposal’s traction was largely due to a very organized campaign by the chamber of commerce, complete with a contract for a feasibility study and an operational plan. This, no doubt, received a boost from years of police defunding and increased vagrancy. At previous meetings, proprietors spoke of wanting their employees and customers to be able to come to their businesses without being accosted or threatened on the streets. They did not want them dodging trash, human feces, drug paraphernalia, or even people sleeping on the sidewalks. If the city wasn’t going to manage basic city services, they would take matters into their own hands.

The BID would consist of a steering committee and a contractor in charge of completing projects. Exactly what the BID will do has not yet been fleshed out, but it could include anything from decorating lampposts for community celebrations to hooking the homeless up with housing services.

The initial assessment will be 0.0877 cents per $100 valuation. Revenues would fund safety and hospitality ($700,000), enhanced cleaning ($300,000), and management and administration ($150,000), with a $100,000 contingency.

The BID was approved 6-1, Kim Roney against.