13: Mike Harris

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Show Notes

  • Mike Harris is the Executive Director of the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD), Philadelphia's second oldest (1993) Business Improvement District (BID).
    • They are headquartered in the Headhouse Shambles, located at 2nd and Pine Streets
    • BIDs are a municipal authority and act as a liaison between business and government - but are not a government agency
      • BIDs are economic development organizations that take a geographic specific area and provide additional services and much more to promote that commercial corridor
      • BIDs do things like provide additional street sweeping, liaising with businesses and the city on zoning / licensing issues, and undertaking beautification projects
      • There are 14 BIDs in Philadelphia (full list linked below)
  • Mike's background is in community development
    • He worked in the Public Sector
    • Most of his career was spent in Chicago city government
      • His worked centered around revitalizing commercial corridors and bringing up neighborhoods
        • Mike came to Philadelphia in 2002
    • Before taking on this position, Mike worked for Rowan, UPenn, and The School District of Philadelphia
    • He was attracted to BIDs because he could work in a grassroots organization on the other side, rather than from City Hall
  • A perfect example of what BIDs do is the recently completed pedestrian lighting project on 4th Street
    • Before the project's completion, Fabric Row was dark and unappealing at night
    • SSHD assessed the cost, found funding, and installed 50 new lights from Lombard to Christian Streets
    • They've found that businesses are staying open later and the corridor has fewer vacancies
    • Hungry Pigeon has opened at 4th and Fitzwater since the project's completion
  • Their biggest upcoming project is the South Street Plaza Project (located just south of the Headhouse Shambles, across from the Wawa, between Lombard and South Streets)
    • They are renovating the plaza to create a new community space for people to gather
    • Renovations include new lighting, new trees, and a map bin and reference points for the district so that tourists can find their way around
    • It has been discussed for years but is coming to fruition in Spring 2018
  • SSHD is also a Registered Community Organization (RCO)
    • RCOs are a key part of the zoning process
    • When developers or other entities want to open businesses or build a structure which requires a zoning variance (a piece of Philadelphia zoning code), they must meet with the appropriate RCO
    • The RCO can then support them, recommend modifications to the plan, or in some rare cases, oppose the plan
    • However, RCOs are not a governing body and only make recommendations
    • The Zoning Board has the final say in the matter
    • SSHD has public meetings where people can voice their opinions on upcoming projects/proposals
    • Essentially, they work to achieve the greatest good for the most people (but you can't please all of the people all of the time)
  • Another example of what BIDs can do surrounds the sad case of Bridget Foy's and Doggie Style burning down
    • They helped facilitate fundraising to support the employees
    • They also held a 300 person community dinner under the Shambles to raise funds for the American Red Cross, Red Paws, and Bridget Foy's
    • Now SSHD is working as an RCO to help with zoning and permitting for Bridget Foy's rebuild (Doggie Style reopened at another location in the area recently)
  • SSHD and other BIDs generate revenue from:
    • Property owners (main source)
      • They assess all the properties in the district and issue the owner(s) a required yearly fee
    • Grant funding
    • Rent the Headhouse Shambles (weddings corporate events, etc)
    • Corporate sponsorships for live events
  • This funding is used for marketing and PR, street cleaning, graffiti removal, supporting the South Street mini-Police station, live events, and more
  • Events include the South Street Spring Festival, and others
  • In Fall 2018, SSHD is putting on a Mural Arts Festival
    • They were inspired by similar festivals in Montreal and Winwood Walls in Miami
    • They are going to take 15 walls in the SSHD and have a mural festival over the course of about 7 days
    • Visitors will be able to watch a wall go from blank canvas to beautiful masterpiece over the course of a week
  • Head on down to South Street!