City Market is within sight of the red Temple University flags that line North Broad Street on the way south to the school’s campus, yet drug dealing, panhandling, and shoplifting plague the shop.
“It’s still North Philly for you,” said Sameer Addahbly, who works the counter at City Market, owned by his uncle. “Don’t let Temple fool you.”
An older man, bundled for winter, walked in. He had been caught stealing before, Addahbly said.
“I’m not going to keep telling you,” Addahbly yelled. “You’re not allowed in here.”
At City Hall, 2½ miles south, legislators seeking to revive the North Broad corridor — known a century ago for industry and grand mansions — will consider a bill to create a business improvement district (BID), which can levy funds from property owners to support improvements in the area.
“With the Met as an anchor, there is unlimited potential for further economic revitalization along North Broad, from Spring Garden Street all the way up to Indiana Avenue,” Darrell L. Clarke, City Council president and a driving force for the BID, said in a statement. “But if you drive or walk along the corridor, you know there’s a real need for enhancing the municipal services that it receives.”
The BID would collect a fee based on a percentage of properties’ market values from owners of 256 properties along Broad from Spring Garden Street to Indiana Avenue, as well as raise additional funds, to devote an anticipated $507,000 annually to such services as street cleaning, special events, marketing, and public safety improvements.
“We strongly believe that whoever is going to pay into this assessment, you’re going to get a return on that,” said Shalimar Thomas, executive director of the nonprofit North Broad Renaissance, which would administer the BID if it were approved.
The organization already raises private and public funds to provide the services that a BID would offer, but being able to rely on sustained contributions from property owners along the corridor would give the organization a greater ability to shape the area, Thomas said.
Business owners closer to Spring Garden, though, aren’t convinced.
“We’re taxed on just everything,” said Alicia Santucci, owner of Santucci’s Original Square Pizza at Broad and Wallace. “We don’t really understand or see the benefit in paying to have the area cleaned when every business owner should be responsible for keeping [up] their own property.”
Santucci owns the building that houses her restaurant, but business tenants along Broad Street are concerned that landlords would increase rents to cover the added fees.
“If I have to pay any more than this, I’m out,” said Shervin Manzari, a renter who for 12 years has owned Cameron’s Seafood near Poplar and Broad Streets. “I’m against paying anything more to the City of Philadelphia.”
Although business improvement districts are established by the city, all funds go back to the neighborhood, with the community deciding how to spend them.
“When I wrote that law back in 1999, I knew exactly what I was doing,” said Dan Hoffman, a retired urban development consultant and an author of Pennsylvania and New Jersey’s BID laws. “I was creating an alternative power center to the City Council people and the City Hall nonsense.”
Philadelphia’s 14 business improvement districts include Center City, Mount Airy, Port Richmond, and Manayunk, but recently, proposed districts have been rejected by property owners in the Italian Market and Callowhill areas. Opponents argue that BIDs privatize public space, giving businesses outsized control of services that affect the entire community.
On a recent Friday, Jennifer Bennetch, of 19th and Diamond Streets, canvassed Broad, urging businesses to reject the BID proposal. She fears that added fees for property owners would trickle down to customers.
“Gentrification is already making things more expensive,” she said.
Bennetch said the business owners she spoke to were largely ignorant of the BID proposal. She was particularly concerned that the BID proposal gives significant influence to North Broad Renaissance, which has close ties to Clarke, through 2025.
North Broad Renaissance would be allowed to fine property owners who didn’t pay the assessment fee and to issue liens.
“There needs to be more community input and feedback and not from a small group of people,” Bennetch said.
Thomas, of North Broad Renaissance, said the organization had met with business owners and a dozen community groups, and distributed fliers seeking feedback to the BID proposal in summer to fall 2019.
The BID would be an opportunity for the community to have a hand in revitalization, she said. “We don’t want to displace; we don’t want to move them. We want to be civil, but we also want to do business.”
At North Broad and Lehigh, where vacant and underused properties include the Botany Building, a former shirt factory, and SEPTA’s old North Broad Street Station, Thomas described growing up at Broad and Erie Streets. After graduating from high school, she worked for an insurance company and that led her to community college and Temple University. She wants similar stepping-stone jobs on the corridor.
“We want this to be a professional services district,” she said. “The people in the neighborhood can’t get employment at a tech company. But they can get a job at a local accounting firm or a local marketing firm.”
The North Broad Street BID proposal calls for collecting fees from commercial properties, including vacant and apartment buildings. No private residential or nonprofit properties would be assessed, including most of Temple University. The assessment would be based on a percentage of each property’s market value, compared with the value of all properties being assessed. For properties at the BID’s median value, $364,600, the owner would pay $391 a year, about 0.1% of the property’s worth.
The BID proposal would fail if a third of all the affected property owners (or owners of a third of the total value of the assessed properties) voted against it. A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in City Council, and a vote of property owners would be taken 45 days later. City Council will support the property owners’ decision, Thomas said.
“If at the end of the day people chose not to have that on North Broad Street, we won’t be in a position to have as many resources as we need, and we will make do with what we have,” Clarke said last month.
The assessment method gives the wealthier portion of the corridor a heavier burden if the BID happens, but also greater power to kill the proposal. Almost 70% of the property wealth on the more than 2.6 mile corridor — $349 million — is contained between Spring Garden and Master Streets, less than a mile. North of that, about $71 million in property value is between Cecil B. Moore and Susquehanna Avenue, which runs through the heart of Temple University’s campus. The remaining value on the corridor is $113 million.
“Basically … it sounds like a redistribution from a wealthy neighborhood to a less wealthy neighborhood,” said Robert Inman, a professor of economics and public policy at the Wharton School.
A BID can supplement government services for a neighborhood and be a platform for significant improvements, said Paul Levy, chief executive of the Center City BID, formed in 1990. But a BID needs reliable funding. “You need a revenue base equal to your aspirations,” he said.
Thomas said the participation of North Broad’s more prosperous businesses is essential for the BID to work. “Even the budget that we came up with is not going to sustain the services that we need,” she said. “On top of the BID, we still have to do fund-raising.”
“There’s new apartments and housing going on all over the place,” she said. “Temple University does a tremendous job improving that side of Broad Street, as well. They’re buying property all over the place.”
Temple University has not publicly backed the plan. The university said in a statement: “Ultimately, Temple is in favor of anything that will help the people of North Philadelphia."
On North Broad, near Dauphin Street, shuttered businesses nearly outnumber those open.
“If it looked more like the south side of Broad Street, that would probably be better,” said Makia Underwood, 38, owner of Hair Trance salon.
At Tribe Cafe, Murad Shamsan, 27, worked the counter during lunch hour. He bought a stake in the cafe last year after moving to Philadelphia from Portland, Ore., and was interested in the possibility of a BID.
He wouldn’t have invested in the business, he said, if he hadn’t seen improvements brought by Temple University’s expansion. Yet he recently shortened his hours because of concerns about crime, and he relies on online delivery orders as much as walk-in customers.
Thomas said a BID could help. The organization would be able to communicate with property owners to encourage them to rent to businesses that have a better chance of lasting. Improved security could help with Shamsan’s concerns about crime. And marketing initiatives could give Tribe Cafe additional exposure.