The new director of downtown Chattanooga's Business Improvement District knows he's about to have a big job on his hands, but said he feels prepared to take on the challenges of heading up the controversial new district.
"I oversee a 24/7 BID in Boston. It's a busy industry," said Steve Brookes, who visited Chattanooga this week before he begins his new role in mid-April. "Property owners are being taxed twice. They have expectations — they should have expectations — and it's very important to meet their needs. It's what I expect."
The downtown Chattanooga Business Improvement District was established by city ordinance in July 2019. The contentious process prompted lawsuits and objections by business owners included in the district.
Properties within the district zone pay special assessment fees of about $1 million a year collectively to fund improvements to the central city to make the area cleaner and safer, as well as to fund enhanced beautification and other special projects.
The most recent controversy to dog the new BID is the question of whether nonprofits and churches within the zone should have to pay the assessed fees. St. Paul's Episcopal Church on West Seventh Street, Second Presbyterian Church on Pine Street, the United Way on Market Street, and the YMCA on West Sixth Street applied last month to be exempt from paying the fees associated with the district.
How BID fees are calculated
To fund the district’s services, commercial and nonprofit landowners in the district will pay an annual assessment of 9 cents per square foot, of either the lot or building size, whichever is greater, plus $4.95 per linear foot of lot frontage. Residential property owners with townhouses or condominiums would pay a flat annual fee of $150 per unit.
That request was denied on the recommendation of the finance committee of the district's board of directors, largely because the organizations didn't demonstrate financial hardship, said Steve Hunt, the board chairman. Total annual fees from those four entities would come to $34,000.
After leaders of the nonprofits objected to the decision, the executive committee of the district's board recommended that the full board send the process back to the finance committee for reconsideration. The board agreed, and that finance committee meeting will be Monday.
The question of whether nonprofits should be exempt from business improvement district fees is one he's not sure how to answer, Brookes said. In Boston, the nonprofits inside the zone provide support in a variety of ways to the mission of the district, he said. "I'm not 100% sure if they're assessed [fees]," he said.
He does know that launching a business improvement district often means persuading people who don't think much of the idea, Brookes said.
"When we started in Boston, it was the first BID in Boston," he said. "I met with people who were opponents of it, who didn't think it was going to work, who thought it was going to fail."
But that district has thrived over the years, and he won't hesitate to do the work here to build relationships that make business improvement districts successful, he said.
"It's all about communication and relationships," Brookes said. "I enjoy working with people who question things. I'm very realistic that I won't be able to please everyone, but if they'll pick up the phone and call me or send me an email, I'll do my best."
Brookes has worked for the downtown Boston Business Improvement District since 2011. As the district's Clean and Hospitality operations director, he oversees 45 ambassadors and communicates with city of Boston departments, property owners and managers, students, visitors and others to provide services to the 34-block area. Launching a similar program here will be essential to success of the district, he said.
Upcoming BID meetings
Finance committee: Monday, March 16 at 1 p.m.
Full board meeting: Wednesday, March 18 at 2 p.m.
"The ambassador program will help once it gets started and people see," Brookes said. "They'll be the brand of the BID."
Before working for the Boston district, he was the operations manager for the American Hospitality Academy in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, worked at the Waterfront Partnership, as well as Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. He attended and graduated from Elon University in North Carolina.
There were 46 applicants for the role, and five finalists interviewed.
Contact Mary Fortune at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.