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Business improvement district for Old Town Alexandria not feasible, city manager says

Alexandria's city manager said Wednesday that the idea of a business improvement district in Old Town isn't feasible, after local businesses that had pursued the designation abandoned the effort amid disagreements over how it should be approved.

In a memo to the City Council recommending that the idea no longer be considered, Mark B. Jinks said an exploratory committee of businesses that had pursued a BID in Old Town for two years declined to spend more time on the project.

Alexandria council tries to find compromise in heated Old Town BID debate

The group's rationale was that the approval process backed by the City Council in June required work that the group had already done, and that a threshold for approval of at least 55 percent of Old Town's 2,100 businesses and 700 commercial property owners was unlikely to be met without an extensive education campaign.

Without a core group willing to participate, “proceeding any further with the BID process at this time appears to not be a productive use of city government resources,” Jinks wrote in his memo.

A BID by any name stokes passions in Old Town Alexandria

The idea of an Old Town BID has been a source of heated debate in Alexandria, reflected by storefront posters and dueling websites.

Advocates for the designation, led by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, argued that the fees collected from local businesses and commercial property owners would help revive the downtown shopping district — pointing to vacant storefronts and an accelerating drop in non-meal sales-tax revenue in Old Town.

Opponents said a BID is nothing but an attempt to find a new revenue source for maintenance and operation of the city’s redeveloping Potomac River waterfront. Those costs are supposed to be covered by the hotels, stores and residences being built there, they said.

In June, the City Council sought a compromise by proposing a smaller district, between Duke and Cameron streets from the waterfront to the King Street Metro station.

Neither side of the debate liked that plan.

Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg (D) said she agrees that the idea of a BID should be abandoned, arguing that the city can work to improve the character of Old Town without levying a fee on businesses and commercial property owners.

“While a BID might be right for other cities, I don’t think that’s true for Old Town,” Silberberg said. “In the business community, some wanted it. But numerous folks did not.”