"Why can’t we tax wealthy businesses?": The Insidious Story of A Local Plan, Poorly Written.

  1. That was really wonderfully informative, Mr. M. I believe we’ve met. I think I accidentally offended you at meeting at the ADA back in October. I can be a bit impetuous in my enthusiasm.
    The issue as I, the uninformed and idealist public, see it is this: the processes by which such plans are designed and managed tends to be based on the sort of biased interest that can promote insular and exclusive cultural economies that improve business only for certain sectors, often at the expense of adjunct communities. There are all sorts of problems that are associated with BIDS, and I’m sure that there are a lot of solutions associated with BIDS, as well. Mostly, it just seems formulaic and stodgy, orchestrated and poorly constructed. I don’t seek to offend anyone with such remarks. That is just my impression. I like Pink Elephants, by the way.
    I read the Asheville Grown position on the BID, when I was still at work and I thought about growth all afternoon. Thus, the following response is so long as to be almost trollish. Still, it is considerably shorter than the Economic Benefit Study Report. This might not even make sense. That’s okay. The City website doesn’t always make sense either.
    I appreciate the perspective put forth by Asheville Grown. However, I am still thoroughly concerned about what the BID represents for central Asheville communities.
    It’s unfortunate that I did not know about the opportunities to learn more about the BID earlier in its planning process.  It seems that, despite the efforts to publicize City meetings, a lot people feel that this BID came about with somewhat little warning. I probably saw the notices, but I didn’t know they were important.
    Many residents had not even heard about it prior to just over two weeks ago, when the City sent out a somewhat uninformative letter (which featured a typo) to “Property Owners.”
    I understand that the intent, on behalf of Asheville Grown, is to support local management and to provide protection for downtown services.
    As a resident of 28801, I am also very supportive of the integrity of downtown services, and know of many people who have been working very hard to improve bus service and to sustain/expand resources for the houseless and vulnerable, many of whom live downtown, as well.
    At the same time, the City of Asheville has provided some wonderful accessories to downtown life, such as new fountains, a new pavilion, and support for some select community initiatives.
    My concerns about the BID do not come from some broad-brushing anti-City perspective, as I believe that there are many people who work their ashevilles off trying to do the right thing as they understand it to be.
    I appreciate a lot about this town. In fact, I love this place.
    Tourists do, too. I meet great people downtown all the time, from all over the world.
    (This next part is a little overly Orator-esque, but I’ll leave it.)
    However, this town is a City and, like most cities, it grew around business and profit to be had.  Asheville and the land surrounding have always offered something more that just a place to pass through and buy something. We’re offered the mountains and the air and a place to rest and work. The paintings on the walls of the Council chambers reflect this history well.
    Things change, however. As Asheville Grown inevitably knows, it is often dynamics in culture and economy that catalyze change. I have an enormous amount of respect for the “Put your money where your heart is” campaign. That makes sense to me. That changed the way I think about economy.
    Of course, as a member of the 60% of 28801 households that make under 15,000 a year, I don’t have much money to put anywhere. It is already difficult for me to walk past some of the new stores. Everything is so clean and orderly. The shelves are sparse. The lighting is lovely. I glance in the windows and sometimes I stop and  appreciate the design of it all. Then I keep walking. I never go in. I can’t afford to.
    I have no business there.
    Still, I appreciate the colors and composition. I appreciate, also, the knowledge that if I wanted to, I could go in and I wouldn’t have to buy anything. The people would probably be perfectly friendly to me. I have nice glasses and a somewhat stylish purse.
    I do not, however, appreciate the thought that the shop people in these shopping experiences would be quite so friendly if my friends at BeLoved were to grace their fine boutiques and galleries. I’d somewhat think not, but that may be making presumptions.
    That is something that people do.
    The Asheville Police, for example, seem to make a lot of presumptions.
    This is getting off-topic, as if there were such a thing. The Asheville BID is, in my mind, a bit more than a 3-year plan to play with local control. The forces driving it affect and reflect everything.
    According to the Economic Benefit Study, the vast majority of people surveyed were the owners of properties and businesses, (managers) These are the people whom this would benefit.
    I think it is admirable that Asheville Grown is so optimistic about the use of this plan to generate local investment in the future of downtown. It seems to me, however, that there are some real wheelers and dealers that get involved in these sorts of things and the power of influence can be tremendous.
    I’m sure, of course, that you know this.
    42% of the businesses surveyed by Dr. Ha have only been in business since the turn of the century – the 21st century. With them, a total of 73% of the businesses surveyed have been open for less than 20 years. That’s a lot of wheeling and dealing.
    When things change too fast, they lose their sense of history. BIDs can be disastrous or wonderful in regard to surrealism, depending on how you look at it. In any regard, they don’t seem quite real.
    Here’s how I see it, Asheville Grown, et al. has/have already established a firm foothold in local economic development, and has/have shown that local alternatives beat out the mass-prod. status quo by a mile, in terms of both Quality AND Flavor.
    Asheville is know for brilliantly crafting its economy to suit some of its unique skills and inclinations, its creative resources.
    Why then, would such a visionary community settle for some pre-fab model that already jangles with conflicting interests and futures?
    It just doesn’t make sense to me.
    When I read the word Local, I assume that means me. I assume, also, that it means my neighbors and my friends. We live here. We talk here. We walk here. We sit down here. We dance here.
    We are a part of this place.
    Some, however, more than others. Asheville is already wildly economically and culturally segregated.
    How many Black Owned businesses are in downtown? How many are outside of The Block?
    How much money do some of these downtown businesses make? I’ll bet it’s a lot. Then the people who profit off of high-end tourists spend their money on mid-range accoutrements, like fancy vinegars, and it just all sort of goes round and round. Business Improvement Districts become insular, exclusive economies and cultures.
    That is what they are intended to do.
    (This next part is admittedly audacious.)
    So, yes, I am concerned. It seems to me that Asheville may be better served with a different sort of model, one that is built by us, using parts of other models. One that is flexible enough to meet our changing needs and has enough integrity to know what those needs really are.
    There are plenty of people who know what those needs are. They have been trying to meet them with nickels and dimes for years. Imagine how much AWESOME stuff could be funded if Local Asheville taxed business based-on-profit, and then re-invested it into the community, not just downtown, but the whole district.
    Do you know how happy that’d make people?
    …to have a renewable fund to help grow Asheville in ways that may be more economically sustainable, inclusive, and interesting? What would be possible with so much funding?
    Why can’t we tax the wealthy businesses? Not too heavily, but enough to make a difference, to give 28801 community groups money to work with together.
    The thought that progressive business interest groups and community stakeholders could work together to tax their wealthy competitors is not so outlandish?
    Imagine all the great things that could be funded.
    Super fun, huh?
    I’m not the only one who is thinking about this.
    Table 4.1: Survey Participants (Q1)
    Frequency Percent Business Owner 80 80.0% 80.8%
    Manager 16 16.0% 16.2%
    Assistant Manager 1 1.0% 1.0%
    Other 2 2.0% 2.0%
    Missing 1 1.0% –
    100 100.0% 100.0%
    Source: Asheville Downtown Business Survey 2011
    This means that the primary respondents to the survey were business OWNERS or MANAGERS, not employees or local 28801 residents.
    .3: Business Establishment Year (Q4)
    before 1950 1 1.0% 1.1%
    1950-1959 1 1.0% 1.1%
    1960-1969 2 2.0% 2.2%
    1970-1979 3 3.0% 3.3%
    1980-1989 12 12.0% 13.0%
    1990-1999 28 28.0% 30.4%
    2000-2010 42 42.0% 45.7%
    new for 2011 3 3.0% 3.3%
    Missing 8 8.0% –
    100 100.0% 100.0%
    Source: Asheville Downtown Business Survey 2011
    This means that 73% of the businesses that responded have opened within the past 20 years and that 42% percent of them have opened within the past 10 years.
    Table 4.6: Current Location Satisfaction (Q8)
    Frequency Percent Very Satisfied 72 72.0% 72.0%
    Satisfied 21 21.0% 21.0%
    Somewhat satisfied 5 5.0% 5.0%
    Neutral 0 0.0% 0.0%
    Somewhat dissatisfied 1 1.0% 1.0%
    Dissatisfied 1 1.0% 1.0%
    Very Dissatisfied 0 0.0% 0.0%
    Missing 0 0.0% –
    100 100.0% 100.0%
    Source: Asheville Downtown Business Survey 2011
    Almost all respondents are satisfied or very satisfied with their current location.

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