Spotlight on Business Improvement Districts

DC Downtown BID employee walking down the streetThere are over 1,200 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across the country.1 Although there are numerous names used for these special tax districts, BID seems to be the most common. Specifically, a BID is a defined area where businesses are assessed an additional tax or fee that is then directly applied to improvements and services in the district’s boundaries.2 These improvements and services can include street cleaning, improved security, events, marketing, economic development, capital improvements, and better communications systems. BIDs provide an aesthetically pleasing and safe atmosphere for the residents, employees, business owners, and tourists. Although the business owners pay these higher taxes or fees, the steps taken to improve the district bring in additional tax dollars for the city, producing a win-win situation.

Where It All Began

In 1970, Bloor West Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) in Toronto, Ontario, was formed under the leadership of a jewelry shop owner and a lawyer.3 These two innovators were concerned with the poor image of the Bloor neighborhood. On May 14, 1970, the Bloor West Village BIA officially started with the first project focused on beautification of the neighborhood.4 By stringing lights on trees and installing flower planters on the sidewalks, the first business improvement district (BID) project was successfully launched.5

Four years later, the first BID in the United States was created—the Downtown Development District (DDD) of New Orleans. 6 Today, the DDD encompasses 1.2 walkable square miles and has the largest employment center in Louisiana, with 62,000 jobs.7 On any given day, 120,000 total people cross into the DDD—including approximately 62,000 employees and 5,100 residents—equaling about one third of the entire city’s population.8 The DDD has not only improved the life, work, and play space in downtown New Orleans, but public safety has improved. The DDD has seen a 2.5 percent decrease in overall crime from 2009 to 2010, with a 14.4 percent decrease in overall crime in 2011 in a month to month comparison with 2010.9

Spotlight on Downtown DC

The Downtown DC BID, the first and largest in the Washington, D.C., area, was established under D.C. legislation in 1997.10 The Downtown BID is composed of more than 800 commercial properties in a one square mile area.11 The BID provides safety, hospitality, homeless services, environmental sustainability, transportation, maintenance, physical improvements, economic development, marketing, special events, and planning.12 The BID relies on partnerships with the District of Columbia government, the federal government—especially the General Services Administration (through their Good Neighbor Program, which actively supports urban development through community partnerships); the National Park Service; and the National Capital Planning Commission—as well as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority.13 Partnerships are vital to the sustainability of BIDs as well as helping to enhance the physical environment of the area.

The Downtown DC BID Executive Director Richard Bradley is often quoted as saying, “When the BID started, Downtown was dirty, dull, and dangerous. Now it is clean, vibrant, and safe.”14 The BIDs’ Safety/Hospitality and Maintenance (SAM) crews work daily to maintain a garbage- and graffiti-free public space environment that is both welcoming and aesthetically pleasing to residents, business owners, employees, and tourists in the area.

Besides being able to enjoy the aesthetically pleasing surroundings, improved public safety is a draw for employers, prospective residents, and current tenants. Over the past 12 years, the Downtown DC BID has seen a decline in offenses from an average of 7.4 crimes a day to about 3.8 according to Metropolitan Police Department statistics.15 Theft from auto (-79 percent), burglary (-76 percent), and stolen autos (-59 percent) are the most significant decreases in criminal offenses in the Downtown BID area.16 The Downtown BID is constantly looking for ways to improve the district, including future plans for surveillance networks and expansion of preparedness measures.

MPD Reported Crime in Downtown BID Area, 1999 vs. 2010



Change 1999 vs. 2010


2010 (1)

by incident

by percent

Theft from Auto










Stolen Auto










Assault with a Deadly Weapon




















Sex Abuse 










(1) 2010 is based upon BID estimate from available data.





Although BIDs provide employees, residents, and business owners with clean environments and events which attract people to the area, BIDs also provide resources, partnerships, services, and open communication lines. Behind the scenes, BIDs are constantly improving the public safety of the neighborhoods by providing additional manpower and services, as well as creating an environment of sharing and reporting.

For more information about the Downtown DC BID, visit

-Nazmia Alqadi
The COPS Office


1 Matson, Patricia. 2011. “Online Exclusive: Wilmington Downtown hopes to emulate Big Easy’s success.” Lumina News, February 17.

2 Bradley, Rich. 2012, January 17. Interview.

3 Yang, Jennifer. 2010. “The birthplace of BIAs celebrates 40 years.” The Star, April 18.

4 Ibid, 3.

5 Ibid, 3.

6 Ibid, 1; 2012. “Downtown by the Numbers.” Downtown NOLA.

7 2012. “Downtown by the Numbers.” Downtown NOLA.

8 2012. “Downtown NOLA Safety.”

9 Ibid, 8.

10 Ibid, 2.

11 Ibid, 2.

12 Ibid, 2.

13 Ibid, 2.

14 Ibid, 2.

15 2011. “A Report on Crime in Downtown DC (1999–2010).” Downtown DC Business Improvement District.

16 Ibid, 15.




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