Place-based organizations focused on economic development such as Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have long played an integral role in enhancing delivery of public services and providing other innovative, market-informed tools and services to local businesses within their defined service area boundaries. Now more than ever these organizations are engaged in problem-solving and tackling unprecedented business environment challenges, alongside municipalities and private sector collaborators across the country.
BIDs are also thinking outside the box for strategies that will help ensure downtowns and commercial districts continue to be perceived as safe, comfortable, and vibrant places and remain top of mind to customers who are, for now, stuck indoors.
Today, we want to highlight the remarkable work of our friends, partners, and clients across the country that have quickly stepped up to the plate to ensure the resiliency of our commercial districts.
Financing & Grants
+ Collecting and disseminating accurate information about available grant and loan programs and helping businesses apply for CARES Stimulus money has become standard among BIDs. The Jamaica Business Improvement District, located in the hard-hit community of Queens, NY maintains a robust page dedicated to the many COVID-19 resources that are available and updates it nearly daily.
+ While most BIDs aren’t in the business of running financing or grant programs, some downtown organizations have begun developing programs to offer immediate financial help to businesses. The Downtown Memphis Commission recently passed the “Downtown Business Continuity Forgivable Loan Program” to offer loans of up to $20k, which are forgiven if the business remains open for two years. The funds are flexible and can be used for operational expenses, rent, fixed assets, and debt restructuring.
Sanitation, Streetscape, and Beautification
+ As our team highlighted earlier this week, it’s important that amidst closures, individual businesses take their own measures to clean/sanitize storefronts. Similarly, at district-wide level, BID Clean Teams around the country are maintaining and, in some cases, even stepping up their efforts to ensure robust sanitation of public surfaces and streets. The SoHo BID in New York, for example, continues to empty trash receptacles, sanitize receptacles (per CDC guidelines), and remove graffiti tags daily. Despite the drop in foot traffic, this effort is critical to maintaining cleanliness levels expected by customers (especially amidst a health pandemic) and will really set the stage for local businesses to easily return to operations later and for the eventual ‘re-opening’ of the district.
+ As retailers move into the second or third of closures, many have taken added precautions to secure merchandise and storefronts by boarding up windows. In response to this, BIDs are engaging with local artists to commission mural activations on boarded up windows with the permission of property owners. New York City’s Meatpacking District responded quickly when national chain store Sephora boarded up its windows, and enlisted the help of Brooklyn artist, Theresa Rivera, to paint a mural on it – all within the span of 24 hours.
Marketing & Events
+ While restaurants and cafés are temporarily shut for in-person dining, many have resorted instead to sales via take-out and delivery orders. BIDs have stepped up to support the marketing of this alternative dining option and are elevating the visibility of local restaurants (with delivery services) to customers by aggregating business lists on existing or new platforms including newsletters, websites (e.g. Midtown Atlanta, Downtown Los Angeles), and apps (e.g. Fairfax County).
+ Given that most states are today practicing social distancing, BIDs have also started to jump a step further to bring their public events online through free video streaming. Central Square in Cambridge MA is soliciting ideas for stand-up comedy performances, book readings, fitness classes, and other entertainment gigs as part of their public programming efforts amidst COVID-19 and will be paying a small stipend to local entertainers and entrepreneurs.
+ In Midtown Atlanta, the BID’s very own public safety force, Midtown Blue, that has for more than a decade, acted as the “eyes and ears” of the community continues to operate 24/7 to patrol, monitor, and enforce public safety in this time of crisis. While their services may be immediately critical to business owners who need an extra set of eyes on their shuttered storefronts, they are also key to ensuring the accurate communication of public service information, especially to vulnerable populations.
As BIDs and economic development organizations continue to adapt, respond to, and recover, from the impacts of the pandemic, the Streetsense team is ready to mobilize and support these groups in diagnosing the short and long-term impacts (quantitative and qualitative) of the pandemic and developing district-wide plans, strategies, and policies focused on retail and hospitality business resiliency. Our specialized knowledge and experience working in diverse and mixed-income commercial districts across the country (that each have been shaped historically by a range of shocking economic and environmental changes) will be paramount to understanding and addressing new retail business conditions created by COVID-19. We are here for you — stay tuned in the coming days and weeks for more resources we’ll be sharing.
If your BID or economic development organization is seeking support to assess the impacts of disruption to your neighborhood or commercial district, please contact Nur Asri, Senior Research Strategist, Research + Analysis.
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