Mt. Airy BID adds street cleaners, flowers, and benches to improve local shopping experience

The Mt. Airy Business Improvement District (BID) held its fifth annual meeting on Thursday evening, September 22 and if the turnout was any indication, the organization, whose mission is the physical betterment of the Mt. Airy business district along Germantown Avenue, has made productive use of its funds during its first four years of existence.

More than 30 – “our biggest gathering ever,” said board chair Ken Weinstein – were in attendance in Hagen Amphitheater of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia to hear a run-down of its activities during the past year and get a look at what’s in the works for the next year, and to vote for board officers.

The business improvement district’s initial goal was to create a cleaner business corridor and to that end it hired two full-time street cleaners, “Avenue Ambassadors in the words of the BID’s Hollie Malamud-Price, who herself was hired last fall as the BID’s first executive director. “You’ve seen them pushing water tanks and garbage cans along the Avenue,” she said. “They also do litter removal and occasional vacant lot cleaning, and they water and fertilize the 90 new flower baskets along the Avenue, a big job.”

The money to pay for those and other activities are raised by a levy on Avenue business owners of 18 percent of their real estate taxes. The collection rate for the past year was 99 percent, stated Malamud-Price. “The collection rate states that we’re fiscally sound,” she said.

According to figures presented at the meeting, BID’s annual budget for 2011-12 will be $185,000. $153,000 of that was characterized as “core expenses,” – the funds necessary to operate the organization and pay for street cleaning and its other services. “Program expenses” made up the rest of the budget. They include maintenance of benches installed on Germantown Avenue, flower planting, the installation of solar-powered tree lights at selected spots along the Avenue, holiday greens decoration programs as well as miscellaneous expenses.

About two-thirds of the BID’s projected revenue will come from the real estate assessments, with the rest coming from a $60,000 grant from the Philadelphia’s Commerce Department and $5,000 from the Northwest Fund.

While Weinstein said, “I’m happy to announce that the BID has never been in better shape,” the retention of its programs and indeed the existence of the BID itself is dependent on the renewal of its charter. The BID was incorporated in 2006 with a five-year charter to operate approved by City Council; its charter is up for renewal in 2012. Weinstein said that the renewal application would be for ten years instead of five, saying that the original five-year lifespan was because “We really didn’t know in the beginning how it would go.”

Key to renewal is the approval of the business owners subject to the 18 percent BID levy. “If 51 percent of the business owners say no, we cease to exist,” said Weinstein. He hoped for a result similar to the first time that business owners were polled in 2006. “47 responded then and all 47 said yes,” he said. Ballots are going out now to business owners, who have 45 days to respond.

While the response to the presentation and the BID itself was generally very favorable, questions did arise in the course of the meeting. One of them was the observation by several property owners along the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue, a commercial block, that the beautification and streetscape upgrades hadn’t been extended to them. The BID’s efforts have been concentrated between the 6600-7200 blocks. New lighting, benches and other streetscape improvements have been scheduled for that area for some time.

According to Weinstein, the funds have been appropriated by the city, not the BID, but it has not spent them. “The funding’s there, said Weinstein. “As far as I know it’s up to the Streets Department. He added, “We actually expected that area to be done first.”

Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, suggested that his organization as well as the BID and the 6300 Block Business Alliance all advocate together with city officials, including outgoing 8th District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller as well as current Council candidates, on the principal of strength in numbers.

Weinstein agreed, saying “Let’s put some pressure on.”

The issue of security cameras to deter crime along the Avenue was raised and met a mixed reception. One attendee said, “Video surveillance is very effective” while another said, “If I see that blue flashing light I think I don’t want to be in that neighborhood.”

The meeting closed with the election of voting members to the BID board. The board has nine voting members and five non-voting members. New members included Yvonne Haskins, Gerard McCabe, and Carolene Woods. BID officers are Ken Weinstein, chair; Peter Commons, vice chair, Elise Rivers, secretary, and Gerard McCabe, treasurer.

The next BID meeting is Tuesday, October 11, 12:15 p.m. at the BID office at Upsala, 6430 Germantown Avenue. They are held the second Tuesday of every month.

For more information about the BID, contact Hollie Malamud-Price at 215-844-6490, e-mail hollie@MtAiryBID.com. Her office hours are Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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