Georgetown seeks new nonprofit business group to complement BID

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The annual French Market is among the events sponsored by the Georgetown BID. (Susann Shin/The Current/April 2017)

As many Georgetown merchants face steadily increasing competition from other D.C. retail hotspots as well as e-commerce, the neighborhood’s small-business community hopes to create a nonprofit organization to help address the situation.

The goal is a Main Streets group, a model that’s been recently pursued in Tenleytown and Van Ness and has existed for years in Dupont Circle and elsewhere in the District. Such groups solicit donations and city grants to “revitalize communities by retaining and recruiting businesses, improving commercial properties and streetscapes, and attracting consumers,” according to the Department of Small and Local Business Development, which oversees the program.

Interested community members are working to develop an application to the agency, which has a D.C. Council allocation in place to fund a Georgetown Main Streets group if a satisfactory organization presents itself. Typically such an organization has a paid executive director who works with businesses on their issues, secures funding, develops marketing efforts and coordinates volunteers. The concept in Georgetown remains in its early stages with few details pinned down, according to Ed Solomon, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) who is also active in the local business community.

Georgetown already has a business improvement district, or BID — an organization that receives money from the neighborhood’s commercial tax assessments and spends it on beautification, events, marketing and lobbying. Although some of D.C.’s 12 existing Main Streets groups overlap geographically with a BID, they more often exist in locations where commercial property owners opposed the additional taxes necessary to fund one. Because they lack the guaranteed revenue of a commercial tax base, Main Streets lack the broad scope of a typical BID.

Even so, Georgetown community leaders expressed optimism that a Main Streets group could fill a valuable niche. “I think our general feeling is that all efforts to help businesses in Georgetown are very positive,” Joe Sternlieb, the Georgetown BID’s president and CEO, said in an interview.

Specifically, Sternlieb said, the BID is structured to offer broad initiatives, such as neighborhood-wide street cleaning efforts; large events such as the French Market and Georgetown GLOW to draw crowds to the area; and efforts to boost public transportation to Georgetown, such as advocating for a Metro station and a gondola connection to Rosslyn, Va.

But the BID isn’t empowered to assist one specific business with facade improvements or a landlord-tenant dispute, said Sternlieb — leaving room for a Main Streets group to step in on such issues.

“Our job generally stops at the front door of a business, and the Main Streets will go into the front door of the business to work with them on specific needs to them,” he said. “It’s just a different approach to a set of issues that exists.”

Solomon, who owns Wedding Creations & Anthony’s Tuxedos on P Street NW, also hopes the Main Streets will focus exclusively on Georgetown’s small-business community. The group intends to concentrate on the Wisconsin Avenue corridor, leaving out the M Street commercial strip.

“The BID represents commercial interests large and small,” Solomon said. “The marketing of the small businesses will be enhanced by having someone working full-time just on the small businesses … not the property owners, not the major chains and not the big issues like the gondola.”

Sternlieb hopes the BID can be involved in planning the Main Streets group prevent overlap.

The BID’s 14th annual Georgetown French Market transformed the neighborhood’s Book Hill area into an open-air market for three days in April. (Susann Shin/The Current/April 2017)

“We spend a tremendous amount of time working with small businesses and small-business sectors,” Sternlieb said. “That’s not to say that they can’t use additional assistance, and the Main Streets can do that. … They should go into the areas to be helpful where we can’t go, and not go into the areas we already do well.”

Solomon said the high level of interest in creating a Main Street group suggests that there’s plenty of room for additional events, marketing and other efforts. “If you’re satisfied, then why do you want to put effort into making a Main Street go?” he said.

The Department of Small and Local Business Development will review any applications for Georgetown Main Streets groups. More than one group may apply for the $175,000 in seed money the D.C. Council allocated for Georgetown, with no more than one winner to be selected for that location. However, if no group demonstrates a viable plan for improving the neighborhood and securing long-term operational funding, the money would not be awarded.

Applications are due Aug. 4 and decisions will be made by Sept. 8. The $175,000 grant would cover operations from October 2017 through September 2018.