Scholars from some of the nation’s top law schools and more than 150 lawyers, community leaders and public officials came to the Earle Mack School of Law on Jan. 22 for a conference exploring the emerging role of Business Improvement Districts.
Business Improvement Districts and the Evolution of Urban Governance provided an unprecedented opportunity for leading scholars and economic development professionals, elected officials, and students to examine the
ways that BIDs – private organizations authorized to levy assessments and spend these revenues – shape urban economic development initiatives.
“This event brought together four of the preeminent government scholars in the United States to shine a light on this critical issue,” said Daniel M. Filler,
senior associate dean for academic and faculty affairs at the law school.
The conference featured Richard Briffault of Columbia Law School, Gerald E. Frug of Harvard Law School, Nicole Stelle Garnett of the University of Notre Dame Law School and Richard C. Schragger of the University of Virginia Law School, who discussed the potential opportunities and drawbacks associated with BIDs. John Fry, president of Franklin & Marshall College and former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the University of Pennsylvania, gave a keynote address outlining the role of BIDs in spurring revitalization of both West Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pa. Scholars from Drexel and nine other universities and colleges gave presentations on the unique and shared experiences of the city’s 16 BIDs.
Co-sponsored by the Drexel University Center for Public Policy and the Earle Mack School of Law, the conference represented a kick-off event for both the new Masters of Science in Public Policy and the new joint JD/MSPP that the center and the law school will offer.
Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District, gave a morning address outlining the important role of BIDs locally, nationally and even internationally. He applauded the goals of the conference.
“This is the first meeting of this sort in Philadelphia. There’s been no really good organized effort between the universities, the city and BIDs,” Levy said, thanking Drexel University for sponsoring the conference.
Fry discussed the economic development initiative that he helped launch in 1996 that fueled an economic renaissance in the neighborhoods surrounding the campuses of Penn and Drexel. Early support for the initiative came from the late Drexel University President Taki Papadakis, whom Fry said “showed incredible leadership” by committing funds to the redevelopment effort.
Stressing the diversity of objectives and partners that facilitated massive commercial investment in University City, enhanced housing resources, a drop in crime and renewed attention to the public schools, Fry noted that each partner in the BID received no more and no less than one vote.
Kevin Dow, the chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Commerce Department, announced that the city is launching a new initiative to coordinate efforts with the different BIDs.
“We are trying to create an environment conducive for businesses to stay here and create jobs here,” Dow said. “We are taking a first step in what I hope is a sustained effort to coordinate between BIDs. It is wonderful to see Drexel take a leadership role.”
Professor Richardson Dilworth, director of the Center for Public Policy and an organizer of the event, said BIDs play an important role in cities.
“Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, with hundreds of commercial corridors that have their own specific identities,” he said. “BIDs are an opportunity to express that identity.”