Why Does Georgetown Need 3 Business Organizations?

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To better represent itself, the business community started the Georgetown Business Association more than 40 years ago. In the late 1990s, after the Mayor Barry years, when business services were pretty much defunct in the District, building owners got together and formed the Georgetown Business Improvement District. Now GBA hopes to implement a Main Street program in partnership with the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development and the National Main Street Center, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The reason for three different organizations requires some explanation. Let’s begin with GBA and the fact that it is a 501(c)5, with member-based dues as its primary source of income. GBA can lobby since its revenue is not taxed based. The BID is a 501(c)6 nonprofit, its revenues derived from a selfimposed tax amounting to about $4 million annually. The tax is based on the assessed value of the commercial buildings within the Georgetown BID area.

Since many Georgetown businesses are directly or indirectly paying for the BID, they slowly stopped being members of GBA. Today, GBA’s member income is less than $30,000. What’s more, in light of the internet and the difficult retail climate — combined with the now-repealed liquor moratorium — Georgetown’s commercial district is not as vibrant as it once was, particularly on Wisconsin Avenue.

This is where Main Street comes in. For the most part, Main Streets started in small towns; the program was developed to help revitalize these historic business areas. There are currently more than 2,300 designated Main Streets in the U.S. Washington, D.C., now has 12 Main Street programs, overseen by the Department of Small and Local Business Development.

Observing the success of these organizations, and the need to help revitalize Wisconsin Avenue, GBA started lobbying for the Main Street grant funding of $175,000 to be available in Georgetown. The goals of the proposed Georgetown Main Street are to help existing business owners and encourage new businesses — serving the needs of residents and visitors alike — to locate in Georgetown. There will be an executive director devoted to this cause and a board to help research best practices.

For more information and to support the launch of Georgetown Main Street, contact Georgetown Business Association President Sonya Bernhardt.

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