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Business Improvement District for Towson still under study

Business EnterprisesBusinessDowntown Partnership of BaltimoreDavid Marks

Councilman David Marks said this week that a task force charged with assessing the viability of establishing a Business Improvement District in Towson has met three times since it was formed last fall, but that it is not close to issuing a recommendation.

"We've had meetings, but we're not at a final proposal," said Marks, who appointed the task force, made up of community leaders and business owners. "Creating a Business Improvement District is a very complex exercise and a lot of people have different opinions. It's going to take some time to flesh it out."

Among other things, the creation of a Business Improvement Management Authority — the body appointed to oversee an area designated a Business Improvement District — could bring to downtown Towson private security, additional promotions and marketing, as well as beautification and streetscaping. Those services would be paid for by a fee structure imposed on businesses of all sizes within the district.

Marks has pointed out the need for additional security to deal with the area's growing population and downtown nightlife after a couple high-profile incidents in Towson. A large crowd became unruly outside the Recher Theatre in September 2012 after a fraternity rented out the facility, but after the bar hit capacity just after 11 p.m., dozens of people spilled out into the streets. In a separate incident that same night a man was non-fatally shot as he walked to a parking garage near Towson Town Center mall.

In December, a man opened fire on a group of people early on a Sunday after a fight that began outside the Charles Village Pub. One man suffered a non-fatal injury to his hand.

Marks introduced a bill in September to simplify the process for creating a Business Improvement District. The county already has a process for creation of Business Improvement Districts, requiring two steps: First, the council must approve the bid for the district, which would include its geographic boundaries, tax structure, membership, budget and jurisdiction of the authority. Second, the council must separately approve the license fee and tax structure that would pay for the services provided. Marks' bill would have streamlined theprocess into one step.

The bill was not explicitly written for Towson, although Marks acknowledged at the time his interest at that time in pursuing a Business Improvement District for Towson.

Since then, Marks said the task force he appointed with input from the Towson Chamber of Commerce has met three times, including a session with representatives from the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, and another with the Bethesda Urban Partnership, on how they operate their Business Improvement Management Authorities.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said that despite previous objections to a Business Improvement District, the small business community is "open to discussions to make Towson the best that it can possibly be."

But she said she has seen efforts by the county and others that diminish the need for a Business Improvement District.

On March 18, the County Council approved a contract that will pay Lorenz Lawn & Landscape $258,421 over five years for its services in downtown Towson which include trimming, sidewalk landscaping, trash removal and weed control.

Hafford also said that with construction beginning on the Towson Square complex and other development under way, the county could continue to step up with infrastructure and quality-of-life improvements in Towson, ultimately making the need for creating a Business Improvement District moot.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Business EnterprisesBusinessDowntown Partnership of BaltimoreDavid Marks
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