The Philadelphia City Council voted this week to create a business improvement district on North Broad Street. The legislation will limit journeys for years – although not everyone is in favour.
The central corridor north of City Hall is home to many landmarks, legendary organizations and revived businesses. They form a resilient community that has dealt with decades of declining investment and the recent wave of gentrification.
In recent years, efforts to coordinate stronger city services, encourage visitors to walk and support small businesses on the streets have been spearheaded by North Broad Renaissance, an economic development nonprofit founded eight years ago. In 2019, the group was pushing to create a business improvement district, and had already passed most of the legislative process to create one before COVID forced changes to the plan.
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“We’re at the point where the hearing is scheduled for March 18, 2020,” Renaissance executive director Shalimar Thomas told Billy Penn. “So it’s all over.”
After nearly three years, Beiguang BID is finally close to reality.
Robert “DEL” Femine, co-founder of Underground Concepts, which operates multiple venues in Holy Lorraine, believes more coordination on the North Broad is the missing link in a corridor connecting other fast-growing areas north of Philadelphia City Hall.
“When you think about what happened, I always thought North Broad was the cornerstone of the city right now,” Remind said. “Central City is obvious, but when you think of Spring Garden, Fairmount, Brewerytown, Northern Liberties, Fishtown? What’s the last piece of conduit? It’s Broad Street.”
There are business improvement districts all over Philadelphia. They can stimulate business activity, as evidenced by areas such as Canterlot, East Passenk and the Northern Free Zone. Efforts to create them are not always successful. Attempts to create a BID for the Italian market over the past decade were completely defeated.
In BID, property owners pay mandatory fees based on a percentage of the total value of the area represented by their property. It aims to fund services such as street maintenance, green planting, security cameras, more cohesive police coverage, and economic development programs including cross-corridor cooperation.
Last week, when the northern broad bid proposal passed from the council rules committee, it marked the start of a 45-day opposition period. If, by mid-November, 51 percent of property owners along the boulevard disapprove, the effort will be in vain no matter how the city council votes.
After years of outreach, Thomas doesn’t think that’s going to happen.
Business owners want strength in numbers
At public hearings, North Broad business owners were generally supportive of the measure and excited about the changes it could bring.
Harry Heyman, a Philadelphia restaurant mainstay who has worked for decades with jazz and soul food experts Robert and Ben Bynum, cites his past experiences.
“We’ve been part of a lot of communities over the years,” he told Billy Payne. “With Zanzibar Blue, we were part of Central City long ago when Central City SIPS started.”
For Heyman, the biggest benefit was the sheer number of people.
“Any time someone says, ‘Hey, look at me,’ they only have one voice. But whenever a group of people says, ‘Hey, look at us,’ they have a greater chance of success.”
Femine or Underground Concepts spoke candidly about gentrification fears and lackluster community input. For him, the only way to assuage these concerns is to really listen and start with some “big wins.”
“We have to do our highest priority for these communities, even if they may feel their [issues] They’ll never rank that high compared to some bigger businesses or people with money,” he said.
Femine said small businesses had provided input on the process through the North Broad Business Roundtable. He pointed to the importance of “cathartic expressions” at the meeting and the ability to move from individual tactical operations to broader regional strategic objectives.
“Everyone has been affected over the past two and a half years, and I don’t mean just the pandemic,” Femine said. “There’s a lot of consideration for women, people of color, people of different orientations.”
Have you tried this before?
Back in 2012, City Council President Darrel Clarke, whose constituency included most of North Broad Street, pushed for a community improvement district there. This is slightly different from BID, but is possible under the same state law.
The process caused a lot of resistance and it didn’t happen in the area.
A Clark spokesperson at the time told WHYY that the NID was looking to combat the effects of the student housing boom in the area, with Clark and Temple area landlords taking inspiration from the University District of West Philadelphia.
Residents protested that they did not have enough opinions in the process or that there was no way to make their objections actionable. In the end, there wasn’t enough support from regional landlords to get Clark’s NID through.
This time, 32nd Democratic district chairperson and real estate agent Judith Robinson was the only person to express concern about the lack of participation at a recent public hearing.
Robinson told Billy Payne that with broader coordination, BID’s plans could benefit communities bordering North Broad by extending out on “feeder streets”.
She said there has been no attempt to reach out to civic groups in the surrounding area. “They seem to think that because it is [on] Broad Street, they really don’t have to engage with us,” Robinson said. “I contact them because I know how important it is. “
Thomas of North Broad Renaissance said that while the focus is on businesses and homeowners, her doors remain open. “If the Citizens’ Association wants to talk and see how that affects them, I’m open to that,” she said.
Who is in charge?
The law that allows the creation of BIDs, the Community and Economic Improvement Act, requires the formation of community improvement district management associations to collect property appraisals and management plans.
Unsurprisingly, North Broad Renaissance will become North Broad BID’s NIDMA, which director Thomas describes as “scaling up” with a greater emphasis on economic growth.
“Now we have to think about how to structure these organizations in a way that we think about from a growth perspective,” Thomas said.
The BID will also be governed by the Renaissance Charter, which requires a board of directors composed of property owners, business owners and “institutions” within regional boundaries.
Currently, the organization’s board of directors includes representatives from large corporations, developers, and power actors in government organizations, as well as a number of smaller business owners, community supporters, and community organizers, including:
- PhD. Kenneth Scott (Chairman) – President of Beech Interplex, a longstanding economic development and financial assistance company in the region
- Steven Scott Bradley (Secretary) – CEO of Bradley & Bradley Associates and Insurance and Risk Management
- Randolph K. Brock (Treasurer) – Vice President and Investment Officer, Wells Fargo
- Lowell Thomas (General Council) – Philadelphia Housing Authority
- Eric Blumenfeld — Principal of EB Realty Management Corporation, developer of Met Philly and Divine Lorraine
- Mark Harris – Managing Partner of the Philadelphia office of national law firm Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson
- Anthony Johnson – Director of Operations at Progress Investment Associates, an economic development firm
- Stephen P. Mullin — President of Econsult Solutions, a business and public policy consulting firm
- Brian Murray — CEO and founder of Shift Capital, an impact-driven real estate investment firm
- Megan R. Smith — Founder of the boutique PR firm Brownstone PR
The district applies to both sides of North Broad, extending from the north side of Spring Garden Street to the south side of Indiana Avenue. By address, it will start at 510 N. Broad St. and terminates at 2929 North Broad St.
BID staff will also service selected properties near Broad Street, including 1300 Fairmount Ave. (new Broadridge apartment building, where Aldi is located); 1406 and 1408 Ridge Ave. (home to a series of small storefronts at Fairmont Crossing) and 1361-3 W. Seltzer St.
If the council votes to approve the bid on Thursday, that doesn’t mean it will start immediately. The North Broad Renaissance proposal was proposed to launch in January. January 1, 2024.
“We talked to the owners, some business owners, and they said ‘Shalimar we’d really like to see this, but it would be great if we could push it back a year or so,'” Thomas said. This buffer “gives us a lot of time to continue outreach and continue to hold our meetings, making sure we keep owners and businesses educated and informed.”