Hill business district seeks growth, reauthorization

by Tom Beck
Posted 10/26/23

The Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District’s executive director, Courtney O’Neill, testified in City Council for the 10-year reauthorization of the BID.

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Hill business district seeks growth, reauthorization


The Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District’s executive director, Courtney O’Neill, testified in City Council for the 10-year reauthorization of the BID Monday morning, as the organization seeks to expand its footprint to include the Market Square shopping center and the Chestnut Hill Tower apartment building. The BID’s boundaries currently fall predominantly along Germantown Avenue from Bethlehem Pike to Cresheim Valley Drive.

“We are seeking reauthorization for 10 years to not only build on the momentum of the past two years of economic development, but to honor our mission of keeping Philadelphia's Garden District beautiful and green,” said O’Neill, who also talked about the work the Chestnut Hill Business District does to help beautify the neighborhood, in conjunction with the Chestnut Hill Community Association. 

“This work not only contributes to the beauty of the neighborhood but enhances the quality of life for residents,” she said. “The BID also seeks to assist with safety challenges more robustly within the corridor and with this reauthorization that priority will be addressed in the allocation of the new budget,” she said. 

O’Neill, who was hired last year by the BID to be its executive director, told the Local in a phone call that she’d heard from property owners who were concerned about public safety along the avenue. The BID is looking for ways to help with that, whether it be through the funding of cameras or other safety measures. 

“We don’t have the specifics,” she said. “But we want to make sure we have the dollars available.”

That’s part of the reason why the BID is raising its total income to $460,000 in the first year of its reauthorization, an increase from its current budget of $395,000. The BID’s income is funded by a levy assessed on commercial property owners, which, if reauthorization is granted, would be an expanded pool with the addition of Market Square and Chestnut Hill Tower.

The inclusion of new properties like Market Square and Chestnut Hill Tower, O’Neill told the Local in a phone call, was standard practice for BID reauthorization. After all, she said, those properties have been just adjacent to the business corridor along Germantown Avenue for years. 

“Each time that the BID has gone through reauthorization,” O’Neill explained, “new properties have been added.”

At the hearing, Councilmember Cindy Bass said the Chestnut Hill BID had made the neighborhood a “wonderful place to live, work, shop, to go out to dine and to really be something that's really legendary in the city of Philadelphia.”

The district’s predominant commercial property owner, Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties, was also at the hearing. 

“Over much of the past 75 years, Chestnut Hill has enjoyed a stellar reputation as one of the first communities in the nation to Foster and promote a Main Street Renaissance,” he said. “The charming buildings along Germantown Avenue, our iconic parking lot system and Chestnut Hill's vociferous organizations have made our community a model for commercial corridor success before smart growth and walkable communities were fashionable or even discussed.”

By the late 1990s, however, shopping malls, the internet and changing demographics “diminished Chestnut Hill’s luster,” Snowden said. “Different strategies were required.”

So in 1997, Bowman began advocating for the creation of a special services district, Snowden said.

“Seven years later, our business improvement district was first created,” he added. 

Also at the hearing was Philip Green, the city’s manager of commercial corridor improvements.

“Although the district is at the heart of one of Philadelphia’s most affluent neighborhoods, [the Chestnut Hill BID] faces steep competition from online retail just like every other commercial corridor in the city,” Green testified. “Trends show that affluent consumers… want an engaging destination with dining options, beauty and wellness services, entertainment, and niche retail with personalized customer service. Chestnut Hill BID and other BIDs like it create an experience-rich atmosphere that keeps customers coming back.”

The hearing launched a 45-day public comment period in which affected property owners may submit in writing any objections to the continuation of the BID. If necessary, there will be an additional hearing in 45 days. The final ordinance will go to City Council for a vote in early December.