The Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) is celebrating 15 years of service to the Capitol Hill community this year. The BID was recently recognized with an Honorary Resolution by the District Council, presented to the BID by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D).
Noting that the organization was the “first of its kind in the District of Columbia,” the resolution goes on to state that “the Capitol Hill BID has had an important impact on the renaissance of our Capitol Hill neighborhood, especially the commercial corridors.”
The non-profit organization was founded in 2003 by a group of Capitol Hill commercial property and business owners, led by George Didden and Patty Brosmer, to improve the cleanliness of the commercial areas of Capitol Hill. The BID initially operated from a trailer on the parking lot at Union Station.
Now BID President Brosmer and BID Vice-President of Operations Andrew Lee recall the trailer days fondly, remembering their ill-fated efforts to bring both their dogs to work with them (after some accidents and barking, both animals were ‘fired’ from their office jobs), and the many plants that were sacrificed to beautify the space for meetings.
Working with an initial annual budget of $450K, the team focused on what Brosmer calls “the bare bones. We were tasked with ‘clean and safe.’ We weren’t even going to get into marketing or anything else.”
A key to achieving the BID mission was the 2008 establishment of the Ready, Willing and Working (RWW) Program, which was modelled on a similar program in New York City. It provides supportive services such as case management and relapse prevention to men who are working to escape lives of homelessness, drug addiction or incarceration. The RWW Program serves nearly all of the Men in Blue who staff the BID Clean Team, and has expanded to include Clean Team staff for Capitol Riverfront BID, Adams Morgan BID, Barracks Row Main Street. It also has contracts with the District Government for mid-city and Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
Business Improvement Districts were legislated by the District Council in 1996. The boundaries of the Capitol Hill BID encompass a footprint of five linear miles including Union Station down Massachusetts up to Sixth Street; the Federal Enclave; Pennsylvania Avenue SE up to Barney Circle; and Barracks Row, Eastern Market and the Eastern Market Corridor.
Capitol Hill BID is funded by a tax of 15 cents on every $100 value on commercial property within BID boundaries, or about $1,500 annually on property valued at $1 million.
But they do not duplicate city services, Lee said. “We’re not here to replace what the city does. We enhance what the city does,” he said. “We still work directly with the city. They’re just not able to do the daily detailed cleaning that we do.”
Long-term Hill residents Virginia Vitucci and Michelle Carrol see the value. Both say that there has been tremendous change over the last few years in terms of community recognition, cleanliness and safety. Vitucci loves to see the Men in Blue march in the local Fourth of July Parade. “They’re an important part of the Hill, and it’s good to know that they’re part of the family,” said Vitucci.
“They’re very engaging, which makes me feel safer,” said Carrol, “because I know that if I was in any kind of jeopardy and they’re around, I would definitely seek one out.”
“They’ve always been very nice, very professional, and they always do a good job. It’s changed a great deal,” Vitucci added, noting that she thinks that when people see the Clean Team at work it functions as a reminder not to litter.
“We were here 22, 23 years –you wouldn’t go to Eighth Street,” said Carroll. “It’s a huge difference.”
Chef Bart Vandaele opened Belga Café (514 Eighth St. SE) in October 2004, a time he says Barracks Row was a ‘forgotten street’. He said the neighborhood started to support the café even before it opened. When it did, he said there was a line out the door and a business explosion on the street followed.
“Chef Bart and Belga Café have a long history with the BID and are still thrilled that the BID ambassadors do incredible work to keep Baracks Row a great destination for restaurant guests, visitors and neighborhood people,” Vandaele said in a statement. “Their ambassadors took care of cleanliness, they followed up on the homeless people that were in the area and their presence helped with the reduction of crime,” he said.
“And a clean street is the first condition for a safe street.”
Brosmer knows that both the reality and perception of safety and cleanliness have improved over the years, as the BID surveys the neighborhood regularly. She is proud of the Clean Team and their reputation in the District. “We go above and beyond to make sure our workers know that they’re serving the public in a very important way. They’re not just picking up trash, they’re making a difference in the community.”
The BID mission has expanded considerably over the years, moving from the initial ‘bare bones’ goal of safety linked to trash removal to the creation of the first BID public space recycling program and a graffiti removal program. The BID takes care of the landscaping of tree boxes, planters and maintenance of Eastern Market Plaza, where every December they put up a menorah and decorate the George Didden Tree, named for the founding president of the BID.
“BIDs are tasked with providing whatever the city cannot provide that is needed within their boundaries. The beauty of a BID is that your Board decides what you need to enhance your area,” Brosmer added. “Each BID’s service mix is tailored to its specific challenges,” she said, pointing to different needs of differing BID communities such as Georgetown, which has more retail, or Capitol Riverfront, which copes with the influx of fans to Nationals Stadium.
From an initial force of 10, the BID has expanded to 50 employees. By 2017, the BID operated from new offices near the corner of Pennsylvania Ave and 15th Street SE with a budget of $3.2 million dollars. Almost $2 million is generated by the BID itself through Clean Team contracts with other BIDs, Main Streets and the city’s Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD).
The BID has also participated in homeless outreach programs and has three Safety and Hospitality Ambassadors who are trained in first aid, crime prevention, conflict resolution and Capitol Hill history. The three ambassadors assisted more than 58,000 people in 2017. All this is in addition to various marketing campaigns and collaborations with other business organizations like CHAMPS and Barracks Row Main Street designed to boost the reputation of the Hill as a world-class destination.
“It was a total honor and surprise to be recognized for our accomplishments over the past 15,” said Brosmer of the Honorary Resolution. “We’re going to continue doing what we do best for Capitol Hill.”