Cook: Why you should beware of a Chattanooga business improvement district

Cook: Why you should beware of a Chattanooga business improvement district

October 14th, 2018 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Keim Shirley, left, puts his arm around Tracy Corello in a homeless encampment behind the city's wellness center on East 11th Street on April 6.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

I first heard of business improvement districts (BIDs) a decade ago, when a friend, Dr. Randall Amster of Georgetown University, was protesting an attempt by Tempe, Arizona, to transform its downtown.

Tempe had created a BID.

Funded by an interest-free city loan and tax on business owners, the BID created services that went beyond what the Tempe government offered.

A sort of city within a city.

A private entity within a public one.

Tempe's BID gained control over sidewalks, and began to enforce a no-sitting, no-sleeping, no-loitering policy.

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Private security guards were hired.

Surveillance cameras installed.

There was a focused increase on cleanliness and trash collection.

A crackdown on protest and street activism.

The BID tried to define downtown Tempe as a place only certain people — the clean, the wealthy, the shoppers — were welcome.

The goal of the BID was not democracy.

It was about something else.

"The sanitization of space, and the criminalization of status," Amster wrote in his book, "Street People and the Contested Realms of Public Space."

Since then, BIDs, also known as central business districts, have flourished across the U.S. By some estimates, 1,000 exist today.

There's talk of creating one here.

"It's a way to provide added resources above what the city will do," Kim White, head of River City Co., said recently. (River City Co. and a Colorado consultant are holding meetings about a BID here.)

Here's the rough idea: 500 or so downtown property and business owners would pay a fee — 20 cents to 60 cents — on each $100 of assessed property.

A select group of property owners — a board, unelected by the public — would then designate how those funds are spent.

Just imagine.

The BID board wants a cleaner downtown? Dozens of new trash cans appear, complete with a Chattanooga BID logo. Crews of private maintenance workers patrol the BID district, emptying and picking up trash.

But it's not just litter: a cleaner downtown also means less visible homelessness. Crews of hired security guards steer, sweep and push away homeless folks from entryways. Sidewalks. Alleys. Parks. Panhandling disappears.

Sidewalks, once public property, are now rented by business owners. Protest vanishes, as the BID rarely grants permission to march down the sidewalks.

Additional surveillance cameras appear.

It's not hard to see the dystopian possibilities. BIDs allow a select few unchecked control over our downtown landscape, which already suffers from soft gate-keeping. (Sky-high rents, for example.)

Would a Black Lives Matter march be welcome within a BID?

Would local preachers who offer free food to the homeless?

Street musicians and buskers? Slackers and skaters?

"BIDs can hire its own security to patrol an area, effectively control who is offered retail space, kick out street vendors, and influence legislation and expansion efforts," writes Max Rivlin-Nadler in New Republic. (The essay title? "Business Improvement Districts Ruin Neighborhoods.")

I can understand the allure of a BID here. Downtown Chattanooga has been the belle of the ball for years, heralded near and far. Yet if its luster has faded, as some say, it's only because of rapid, unchecked growth elsewhere.

Chattanooga is cannibalizing itself; downtown must compete with other parts of the city — North Shore, Main Street, the West End, South Broad — for money, tourism, attention. (Move the Chattanooga Lookouts stadium and it's going to get a whole lot worse.)

There's only so much money to go around. Only so many restaurants folks can visit. (When is our hotel bubble going to burst?)

When rents are exorbitant, wages low and gentrification encouraged, then conditions create homelessness.

And BIDs aren't friendly to homeless folks.

Last month, the U.C.-Berkeley School of Law released a study on California BIDs and homelessness. Its findings:

* "BIDs use their own private security and coordinate closely with local police departments to enforce anti-homeless laws and otherwise exclude or remove homeless people from their districts."

* "Privately run districts, mostly funded by property assessments, use their power and resources to advocate for anti-homeless policies and to support policing practices that exclude or drive out homeless people."

Downtown Chattanooga is not meant solely for consumerism or entertainment.

It's not meant for make-believe, where only clean, predictable and entertaining things happen.

As Amster says: if you want that, go to Disneyland.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...