There’s been a lot of discussion lately about a proposed “business improvement district” in downtown Asheville. Forces for and against are aligning in advance of a June 12 Asheville City Council public hearing.

Here are snippets from thoughtful essays by the folks at Firestorm Cafe and Bookstore, the downtown cooperative coffee shop/bookstore, and the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, the entity behind Asheville’s buy local campaign:

From Firestorm Cafe, which is opposed to the new tax district, which would impose a tax increase of 7 cents per $100 of property valuation:

Business improvement districts began appearing in the 1980s and are modeled after shopping malls. Like malls, BIDs are viewed as distinct properties managed by a private entity and funded by their tenants. The problem of course is that our community is not a mall. Cafes, bars and public spaces constitute the core of our social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. We should be wary of attempts to privatize governance over these spaces, particularly when such governance excludes the voices of average people. …

Asheville is a unique city with colorful inhabitants and vibrant small businesses. We believe that the proposed business improvement district would do irreversible harm to the social and economic health of our community. The BID cannot be reformed as it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of our urban space. Downtown is not a mall — an expanse of sanitized corridors for isolated shoppers moving between commercial spaces. It is a commons to which we must preserve access for all and for which we must ensure domination by none.

Please join us at Firestorm Cafe & Books (48 Commerce Street) on June 5th for a public forum on the Asheville Business Improvement District.

And this is from Asheville Grown, which supports the proposal:

This is not a creation of a mall, it proposes the formation of a management entity. Given the avid following of the maker, artist, and local community, we have a strong voice and we can help steer this powerful engine. No one that has worked on the proposal or on the downtown master plan process wants to sterilize downtown, nor do we not want a BID who employs ambassadors armed with tasers. By working on the committee I’ve really spent time studying the options available, I’ve also imagined if this were to happen, the things my colleagues and I would like to see the BID accomplish – especially with an eye toward maintaining our robust independent and funky downtown and a BID can be tailored to achieve that. Of the 13 seats at the table there are 8 seats available for people who are not large property owners, I feel that a 3-year trial period offers us an amazing opportunity to see if this is an effective tool that helps Asheville grow in a direction that can benefit all of us. There have been at least 12 public meetings (easily accessible at all times of the day and evening) announced via the ACT and Mountain Xpress in addition to social media outlets, newsletters, websites and fliers as well as a dozen smaller meetings directed at concerned groups or individuals

I heartily welcome input, a critical eye and questions. If not this; then what? We should do something to help direct Asheville’s future and the volunteers that worked hard to come up with solutions are losing steam. We all want what is best for our community & do not want this to be a mistake, however, there needs to be an open discussion that is well informed without assumptions.



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