2021 | Government

Council approves Silver Spring Business Improvement District

Structure gives marketing, promotion control to private sector

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The border of the Silver Spring Business Improvement District, covering downtown.

Montgomery County Government

Businesses in downtown Silver Spring will have greater control over marketing and promotions, under a plan the Montgomery County Council approved Tuesday.

The Silver Spring Business Improvement District, or BID, aims to improve the business climate and marketing of the downtown area by replacing some of the marketing and promotion responsibilities of the Silver Spring Urban District.

BIDs are seen throughout the Washington, D.C., region, including 11 in the nation’s capital.

County Council President Tom Hucker and Council Member Hans Riemer proposed the Silver Spring BID. Riemer said he’s heard from several businesses in downtown Silver Spring who want more control over marketing the area.

Silver Spring currently has an urban district, one of three in the county. The other two are in Bethesda and Wheaton. 

The county funds the urban district through a tax assessed on properties in densely populated, unincorporated areas. Those taxes help maintain streetscaping, provide public amenities and promote the arts, culture and overall programming in those areas.

The Silver Spring Urban District currently has “Red Shirt” ambassadors who provide security, clean the downtown area, repair public walkways and provide general information. The urban district also does marketing and promotes and sponsors events, like the summer festival and annual jazz festival, according to its website.

Riemer and Hucker said before Tuesday’s vote that the BID does not remove ambassadors, but rather helps them and the overall urban district by letting businesses do their own marketing and promotions as a group.

Per state law, property owners who own at least 51% of the assessed value of all properties within a proposed BID must submit a petition to the County Council. Some of the property owners are known as applicants.

Some of the applicants on the Silver Spring BID are Foulger-Pratt, a real estate firm; Peterson Companies, a real estate developer; and United Therapeutics, a biotech company, according to council staff documents. 

Council Member Will Jawando, the lone vote against the BID, previously said he had concerns about the makeup of the BID’s board of directors. That board would decide on a tax rate for the district and how money should be used for marketing, promotions and more.

Previously, the BID proposal consisted of at least eight members who own large businesses and commercial properties.

On Monday, the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and Government Operation Committee amended the bill, changing the makeup of the board to include:

  • Three representatives of owners of properties in the district assessed at more than $20 million
  • Two representatives of owners of properties in the district assessed at $20 million or less
  • One representative of a business employing more than 50 full-time equivalent employees in the District
  • Three representatives of a business employing 50 or less full-time equivalent employees in the District

Those changes still weren’t enough to convince Jawando. He said he’s heard from multiple business owners still concerned about the BID.

Jawando moved to table the proposal, but that motion died when no one seconded it. 

He wasn’t opposed to the idea of improving the marketing of downtown Silver Spring. But he added that the makeup of the board of directors didn’t reflect all of the businesses in the area.

“You don’t build an all-hands-on-deck approach with half the deck not on board,” Jawando said.

County Executive Marc Elrich shared Jawando’s view. He wrote a letter to the County Council on Monday stating that the power of the board of directors would be too heavily concentrated with large property owners.

Instead, he and Jawando proposed an urban district corporation, similar to the Bethesda Urban Partnership.

The partnership is a nonprofit that works closely with the county government and operates very similar to the Silver Spring Urban District. A BID would not, Elrich wrote.

“A BID would be controlled by large property owners and exclude residents, businesses, and the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce from real governing decisions,” he wrote.

But those who voted for the BID said it isn’t perfect, but it does enough to create better potential opportunities for businesses to improve the downtown area. Council Member Evan Glass said the proposal is far from perfect, but business owners and others in downtown Silver Spring consistently want more promotion of the area.

“When the BID gets off the ground … if we see that resources are not being distributed equitably, we can change the legislation. … If this needs to be improved, we can and will fix it,” Glass said. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com