White Flint advocate Amy Ginsberg daydreams about holding 5K races and happy hours in the area’s Pike District. Hosting local dog fairs and events for children. Beautifying the roadside with flower plantings.
But for many years, she said, efforts to realize these visions have been stymied by burdensome state rules for establishing business improvement districts (BIDs), organizations focused on marketing and energizing specific areas. Now, she and others are celebrating the passage of state legislation that could make it easier to form these districts in Montgomery County.
“I think this moves the ball down the field considerably,” said Ginsberg, executive director of Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit focused on supporting the area’s evolution. “We will hopefully have the Pike District BID, and it will be able to do really creative, innovative things that will attract businesses, families and visitors.”
The Pike District, which stretches along a 2.5-mile section of Rockville Pike, is undergoing a transformation into an urbanized, walkable community and was named a couple years ago to distinguish it from the rest of White Flint. The district is home to the Pike & Rose development, a burgeoning area where restaurants, offices, homes and stores exist side-by-side.
Traditionally, businesses and property owners band together to create a BID, with the common goal of attracting more shoppers and clients to an area. By levying an annual charge on commercial property, a BID can pay for programs to pick up litter, care for parks, plan events and improve walkability. The model has helped bring vitality to areas in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, said Sen. Will Smith (D-Silver Spring), a lead proponent of the recent BID bill.
State lawmakers in 2010 passed enabling legislation allowing counties and municipalities to approve BIDs, but it set up such strict parameters that none of the organizations has gotten off the ground in Montgomery County, Smith said. To form a BID, the law required support from at least 80 percent of the nonresidential property owners inside the proposed district boundary, a level of consensus that Ginsberg and Smith said is almost impossible to achieve.
“We know the benefit of BIDs, but essentially, that 80 percent threshold has held up the process,” Smith said.
The bill passed this session would only require 51 percent support and, in certain circumstances, would allow condo groups to join commercial property owners in pushing for a BID. County or municipal leaders would then hold a public hearing on the matter before deciding whether to authorize the district.
Tom Murphy, chairman of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Council, said Smith’s bill brightens the outlook for supporters of a Pike District BID.
“I think the chances that it’s going to happen are very, very good,” he said.
The advisory council is already working to craft a BID proposal for presentation to the County Council this fall, Murphy said.
Once formed, the BIDs would be governed by a board of directors appointed by property owners inside the district and could start charging fees to finance projects and receive funding from the state or local government, according to legislative analysts. For instance, Murphy said a Pike District BID might levy a small assessment based on square footage.
The bill, which applied only to Montgomery County, sailed through the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature. If the measure takes effect Oct. 1, it could enable BIDs in areas such as the Pike District and Wheaton, Smith said. Ginsberg said she’s also heard Silver Spring property owners are interested.
Even with a change in state law, creating a BID wouldn’t be a quick process, but many communities could see “huge benefits” from pursuing it, Smith said.
“Over the next 20 years, the [Pike District] is going to be the centerpiece of Montgomery County, where people will live, work and play. In order to make that happen, you need a guiding hand and an enthusiastic cheerleader, and that would be the BID,” Ginsberg said.