By. Neil Williamson, President
Jumping into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC time machine, we travel to May, 2014 where we find the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors over the top in support of businesses in the US29/Rio Road area as they discussed and voted in favor of moving the Route 29 Solutions forward:
Ms. [Diantha] McKeel commented that it’s the intent of this Board to make the businesses as strong as possible during this period of construction, and felt that it was critical for VDOT to work with the Board as it reaches out to businesses
Ms. [Liz] Palmer said she agreed, and stated that there were a number of business owners who stated their support for the package – and she felt it was extremely important that they start working with the business community as soon as possible.
Ms. [Jane] Dittmar added that they have a very attentive Board of Supervisors that would stand by the business community 100% as they go through the process to improve the roads in the community, and finally have the ability to attend to some other things with a full concentration – ACBOS Minutes 5/27/14 Emphasis added –nw
Fast forward eleven months and the tenor of the conversation at the June 3, 2015 meeting of the Board was decidedly different. As the Board was discussing making what Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin called “an investment in the future”, Supervisors pushed back about spending any money on an “Open for Business” advertising campaign or even increased signage.
While he noted the Chamber of Commerce support, Supervisor Brad Sheffield questioned if business owners even cared about this issue as so few showed up for the meeting when it was being discussed.
Supervisor Ken Boyd, long an opponent of the Rio Interchange, took a decidedly different approach to his opposition stating he felt this was the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) folly and they should pay for any marketing effort not the Albemarle County taxpayers.
Supervisor McKeel was very concerned about the potential precedent such an expenditure might create. She stated:
I have to have a comfort level that we are being fair to all the businesses in Albemarle County
When pressed for a legal opinion regarding the precedent setting and fairness issue, County Attorney Larry Davis explained that the documents presented laid out a clear case and rationale for the Board’s decision, if they should so choose, to fund this expenditure. He concluded by saying:
I’m comfortable with it
After a motion to fund the business assistance program fully failed (2-4), Chair Jane Dittmar (one of the two votes in favor) asked a decidedly pointed question of her fellow Board members:
Do you want to put any financial wherewithal on an open for business campaign? If not we won’t discuss it any further
This brings us to this week’s meeting (7/1). Staff has brought forward a combined marketing campaign that is designed to:
· encourage customer loyalty and minimize disruption to impacted businesses and their employees
· support the larger tourism industry in the County, as many of the visitors who support the County’s tourism destinations are from locations such as northern Virginia/Washington DC and travel to the area using Route 29 North.
· protect tax revenues generated from the general business district along the Route 29 corridor
In addition to the marketing campaign, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce has suggested a series of signs be erected as soon as possible to alert commuters of the enterprises that are and will remain “open for business”. The concept is these signs be placed now and remain up during and a little after the construction period.
The Chamber even created a concept sign for the Board to consider.
Such a temporary set of signs, albeit redesigned, will certainly provide US29 businesses with increased visibility during a difficult time.
Considering the import of this investment issue and the importance of business in the North US29 corridor. The question now is Will the Board put their money where their mouth is?
Based on their statements in the last meeting, I have my doubts but perhaps they will listen to former Supervisor Sally Thomas, a long time bypass opponent, who also spoke at the May 27, 2014 BOS meeting regarding the Route 29 solutions:
the Board [of Supervisors] also has the right to make businesses a priority, and encouraged them to learn from what’s just happened at McIntire in ensuring that local businesses are advertised and that alternative routes are provided, with VDOT giving them priority in their planning and engineering. emphasis added – nw
As always, stay tuned.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Jay Ward Productions, Charlottesville Tomorrow