Three days after hearing hours of contradictory testimony over whether to establish a business improvement district in Old Town, the Alexandria City Council tried to forge a compromise Tuesday night and tossed most of the job of sorting it out to the city manager.
Council member Paul C. Smedberg said he and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, later joined by the rest of the all-Democratic council, proposed a smaller district, between Duke and Cameron streets from the waterfront to the King Street Metro station.
The council told City Manager Mark B. Jinks to draft a list of the goals and a short-term budget that the district would require, circulate the results to all the business and property owners in the new district, and then conduct a vote to see whether they would support a new taxing district. The council said that if 55 percent of those commercial users supported the idea, it could move forward on creating a business improvement district (BID) in October.
The plan did not thrill either side, leading to a heated argument in the hallway outside the council chambers after the decision. Proponents of an earlier, larger BID, some of whom had worked on their proposal for two years, said the district is essential to competing with other downtowns and shopping districts in the region. They pointed to vacant storefronts and an accelerating drop in non-meal sales-tax revenue in Old Town.
“The City Council is responsible for the health of the central business district,” said Dak Hardwick, chairman of the local chamber of commerce. “They clearly abdicated their responsibility.”
Opponents wondered whether one of the purposes of the BID would be to maintain the city’s waterfront parks, and they were skeptical of the latest plan.
“The council doing a rewrite of boundaries and a business vote at 55 percent is either genius or accelerating into a brick wall,” said Dan Hazelwood, a political consultant who lives and works in Old Town. “The council members saying they got more constructive points from the opponents than proponents underscores how bad the public outreach was in this process.”