by Pete Mazzaccaro
Faced with a shortage of funds, the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District now seeks to expand its boundaries to include another 80 to 90 properties. Some of those properties are commercial. Most are residential, including some 35 or so owned by the George Woodward Co., a corporation that has been renting homes in Chestnut Hill for nearly 95 years.
The Business Improvement District, or the BID as it’s known locally, has a lot of accomplishments to recommend it. In the last five years it has had a major hand in reversing the trend of vacant business properties, taking a 20 percent vacancy rate down to 11. Many of those new businesses have been restaurants like Mica and Iron Hill Brewery. Others are new retailers like J. McLaughlin.
The BID also has been involved in funding nearly every other positive development on Germantown Avenue, from paying for holiday decorations to increasing Avenue safety through security cameras and covering expenses for a police bicycle patrol.
It’s pretty easy to see that the Avenue as a business corridor is much better off with the BID than it would be without.
Expanding its boundaries to grow a $240,000 budget to $320,000 is less clear a case.
Residential landlords who will soon find themselves within the new boundaries of the BID certainly face a hardship. The George Woodward Co.’s $17,500 increase in assessment is significant. As board chairman Stanley Woodward said, there’s an awful lot of good things the company would rather do with that $17,500. And some of those things, particularly the maintenance of street trees and public spaces, are as vital to the well being of Chestnut Hill as filled storefronts.
Residential landlords aren’t the only people who aren’t in favor of the BID expansion.
Other business owners I’ve talked to who aren’t happy about the expanded boundaries believe that their businesses, because of their location, won’t benefit from the main focus of BID efforts. They won’t benefit from holiday lighting. They don’t have access to Avenue parking lots. For them, a new BID expense is just one more unfriendly bump in the price of doing business in Chestnut Hill and the City of Philadelphia.
It’s easy to appreciate those points. But the BID’s argument that its work on the Avenue enhances all values in Chestnut Hill – both on the Avenue and off – is easy to demonstrate. Nearly every piece of literature promoting home rentals and sales points to the shopping and dining of Chestnut Hill as a major attraction.
The same goes for business owners. Even if they might not have the space for a BID sponsored flower basket or be within easy walking distance of a Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation lot, what would the value of their business or the property in which it is located be without the BID?
Today, in the midst of what is probably best described as epic levels of competition for retail corridors coupled with the fact that it is part of a cash-strapped major metropolis with far more pressing problems than getting shoppers on Germantown Avenue, the BID at its worst is a bitter pill better swallowed than refused. Right now it is the most reliable source of local funding focused on local improvement right here in Chestnut Hill.
Without the BID, it’s hard to imagine how any of the good it has accomplished in the last 10 years would have come about. It might cost less to run a business or rent a home here, but it would come at the cost of a much less vibrant and less valuable neighborhood.