We feel the time has come to clear the air in regards to the Business Improvement District (BID). There are some points that need clarification.
1) BID Solicitation- First Team Management approached the Borough many times, eventually securing an advisory position as part of the Mayor's campaign agenda. The Borough was willing to spend $10K matched with another $10K funded by the state to explore the feasibility of a BID in Chatham Borough.
2) Committee Selection- The Mayor and First Team Management solicited the members of the advisory committee. This committee was made up of chamber board members, property owners, business owners, and representatives from the Borough. No one on the committee requested their position. There was no compensation of any kind to the committee members, who donated their time to this process in the spirit of growing the Chatham business community. Several attempts were made to broaden the make-up of the advisory committee but were not met with much success.
3) Committee Process- The committee spent multiple meetings over many months exploring different scenarios, including restructuring, redeveloping and broadening our reach to include Commerce Street and River Road. This was all done in attempts to secure a plan that would benefit Chatham at-large. Marketing, advertising and government advocacy were the only issues that seemed pertinent to many. It was determined that municipal and security issues were performed satisfactorily and those services didn't need bolstering from a BID. The potential for grant assistance and improved success rates were also something that kept our interest while exploring the option of a BID. The sense of community involvement and responsibility was a positive aspect, whereas everyone who paid in would be encouraged to have a voice in how their BID was run.
4) Information Sharing- This is the topic that has gotten the most criticism from some portions of the downtown population, while being grossly under-estimated by the naysayers. Many forms of communication were available and distributed. Meetings were held and some were well attended. All of the documentation in regards to communication will follow directly from First Team Management and will be available for public review. At the beginning of the BID process, it was suggested that the committee not involve businesses outside of the Advisory Committee, as the consultant indicated that this often causes confusion and that the businesses would be better off learning the merits of a BID in an open informative meeting. As the meetings and the BID process progressed, the Chatham Area Chamber of Commerce did reach out numerous times to their members in attempts to broaden the knowledge about the BID. This was done through emails, surveys, notices and meetings.
5) Feedback Response- After notifications went out and a timely response was returned, Commerce Street and River Road were removed from the scope of the project. After the meeting attended by the property/business owners it became immediately evident that no potential benefit from a BID was seen for that area of town. This feedback was taken seriously and respectfully and they were removed from the subsequent proposal.
6) Process of Approval- Finally after 18 months of discussions, meetings and numerous attempts to solicit feedback, the BID Advisory Committee as a whole determined that there was nothing more that could be accomplished by the committee alone, so the time had come for a public hearing. This was part of the set process for securing BID approval and always part of the plan.
7) Results- At this hearing several business/property owners from the downtown area finally voiced their concerns. The intent of the BID Advisory Committee was to explore ways to improve the Chatham Business Community. We maintain that the committee's goal was to help businesses, NOT create disharmony. Therefore, after getting the feedback that was sought for so long, we feel that energies would be better spent elsewhere and that the Council should vote no on the BID ordinance.
R. Andrew Copp is President of the Chatham Area Chamber of Commerce and Member of BID Advisory Committee. Carolyn A. Cherry is the Executive Director of the Chatham Area Chamber of Commerce and Member of BID Advisory Committee. Copp and Cherry are writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Chatham Area Chamber of Commerce.