A Northampton at Risk


By Charles Bowles, Peter Whalen, and the Northampton BID Board of Directors

Imagine a Northampton without Sidewalk Sales. Without Restaurant Week. Without sidewalks plowed in the winter or cleaned in the summer. Without holiday lights or hanging flowers. With graffiti and weeds instead of tended flower beds. With sidewalks covered in gum and cigarette butts.

These programs and maintenance are run by the Northampton Business Improvement District, a group of property owners, non-profits and business people who voted to band together to support a vibrant, clean, and successful downtown. But the BID may not exist soon, and without it, none of these programs will continue.

The BID is under attack from those who disagree with our central belief - that, when a downtown comes together as a community of people, businesses, residents, non-profits and supporters, we become stronger. Our opponents’ court case is not based on whether or not the BID is beneficial - it would be hard, given all of our events, our beautification efforts, and our contribution to a thriving cultural district, to argue that we haven’t made downtown stronger.

Instead, our opponents insist that the BID was not properly created. They have challenged our petition signatures, our methodology, and other technicalities. Our petition was certified by the City Clerk, and the City Council voted, after numerous public hearings, to create the BID. Our opponents challenged 147 of our signatures. We’ve corroborated each and every one.

One opponent stated, repeatedly, in public hearings that he would support the BID at a rate of .0025. We’re at that rate. And yet his case against us continues.

You’ll likely hear from our opponents, who have tried to turn this dispute into a case that  stretches beyond the legitimacy of our petition signatures. We’ll leave the complex legal issues to the court, which has to decide a case with no precedent - a daunting task that will not likely end with this court’s decision.

Fighting this case cost downtown more than one hundred thousand dollars. Fighting this case meant that downtown lost free WiFi and other programs for which the BID had budgeted. It’s cost Northampton - and you - immeasurably. And it’s getting worse. Why? Because our opponents continue to bankroll lawsuits in both state and federal court to fight against our town, the very town that helped build their financial success.

We’ve had to cancel Northampton’s holiday marketing. We’ve had to lay off one member of the downtown maintenance team and cut the hours of the other two. The position of another staff member is at risk. Why? Because opponents of Northampton’s success have dragged on an unnecessary court battle sharing little, if any, information on how this fight would hurt Northampton. We’re not willing to stay quiet about that anymore. We’ve lost too much. Businesses have lost too much. Customers have lost too much. While we must, as a matter of financial survival cut our services, we will no longer be silent.

The Chamber can’t replace what we’ve had to cut - nor will any organization be able and willing to fund programs like Sidewalk Sales, Restaurant Week, Jazz Fest, First night Fireworks, and more. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to pay to keep the holiday lights downtown this year. But we may not be able to keep the lights on downtown for much longer.

What can you do? Shop downtown. Tell business owners that you support a bright, not a fading Northampton. Tell us how else we can help you, how else we can, given our limited resources in the face of a heavily bankrolled lawsuit, keep the lights on.

We’re not in this for ourselves - despite some ridiculous claims that the BID’s administrative expenses are nearly half of our budget (in fact, it was only 12 percent before we had to cut costs).

We’re in this for you, for downtown, for Northampton. We’ve become as lean as we can, and we’ve started to trim services that will hurt downtown. All because a few people would rather spend their money to shut us down in court than spend a fraction of that cost helping their neighbors. Their community. Their town. Our town. Our Northampton.