New citywide business improvement district plans to increase tourism

Gracie Malley/File
In the hopes of increasing tourism, Berkeley City Council voted to establish a city-wide business district, which would help areas like Downtown Berkeley.

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Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a new citywide business district, which they hope will increase tourism and stimulate the local economy.

The Berkeley Tourism Business Improvement District, or BTBID, will place a one-percent tax on the revenue received by the hotels and motels in Berkeley through room rentals. In turn, the city will allocate the funds to certain projects aimed at promoting tourism in Berkeley.

“This is good for the city because the city receives 100 percent of the tax,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak during Tuesday’s public hearing. “We’re hoping that this increased promotion will increase further.”

A vast majority of hotels have supported the district plan, Wozniak said.

Sustainable Business Coordinator Jennifer Cogley said five anonymous businesses voted against the proposal, though these votes cumulatively accounted for only eight percent of the general vote, since votes are weighted proportionally to the amount of taxes paid by each owner.

“I can’t speculate why,” said Cogley. “This will be a wonderful addition — an infusion of new energy and funds used to promote Berkeley.”

According to the management district plan, the improvement district’s boundary includes 24 hotels.

The city’s five existing business districts consist of Downtown Berkeley, North Shattuck, Telegraph, Solano and Elmwood. The improvement district proposal has been underway since the fall of 2011, when the development was initialized by hotel directors in collaboration with Barbara Hillman, executive director of the privately owned tourism site Visit Berkeley.

Visit Berkeley will act as the designated “Owners’ Association” in charge of managing the program and utilizing the funds collected by the city. According to the adopted resolution, the proceeds are strictly confined to such uses that would directly benefit the tourism industry.

“Depending on how the money is monitored and used down the line, this could be great for the community,” said Shirley Mitts, chair of Adeline/Ashby Merchants Association. “As long as businesses are kept informed.”

According to the management plan, speculated operations include the creations of parks, fountains, public bathrooms and pedestrian malls. $375,000 in funds will be given to Visit Berkeley.

Tuesday’s meeting served as the final delegation for this proposal, which will come into effect for a five-year period beginning Nov. 1.

“(Berkeley) has always been a mecca and marketplace for the avant-garde and creative souls to journey through,” said Suzan Steinberg, chair of the Shattuck/Blake Merchants Association. “We fully support the efforts of the Berkeley Tourism Business Improvements and hope that more people will be inspired to come visit.”

Contact Virgie Hoban at [email protected].