New BID director lays out challenges, goals in revitalizing Mt. Airy's business corridor
For the past seven years, Angie Williamson had her eyes on Mt. Airy. As the new executive director for the neighborhood's Business Improvement District, her dream of residing and working in Northwest Philadelphia has finally been realized.
"I remember taking the train out here to visit and walking around Germantown Avenue and just falling in love with it," the Virginia native recalled.
Williamson made her move to the city three years ago, initially living in Mt. Airy and commuting to work in Fishtown. She now lives in nearby Germantown and was hired last month to take the place of former BID executive director, Hollie Malamud-Price.
BID President Ken Weinstein says Williamson stood out among other applicants for the position. "Angie was a clear choice to lead the Mt. Airy BID. Her extensive experience as head of Economic Development at New Kensington CDC showed us what she can do and what she brings to the table," he said.
A background in economic development
Before joining BID, Williamson was Director of Economic Development at the New Kensington Community Development Corporation for three years. There, she helped start a cleaning and beautification program which covered four commercial corridors. Other notable accomplishments include two streetscape improvement projects and securing funding for both a model block project and marketing plan for E. Girard Avenue.
She also moved to streamline a directory of the neighborhood's 800 businesses. Wiliamson credits sponsorship of the free directory for doubling attendance and participation for signature community arts events like the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby.
"A lot of the work I did at NKCDC is similar to what Mt. Airy USA does plus the BID," she said.
Prior to her time at NKCDC, she was a city planner and housing development specialist for the city of Roanoke, VA, as well as a program and grant manager at the Western Virginia Workforce Development Board.
Challenges and future goals
Williamson says stepping into the role of BID's executive director will include a ramping up period as she takes on the civic's administrative duties, collections, and communications.
Developing more robust communication, including a bi-monthly e-newsletter and a more dynamic website are priorities, she said. Williamson also hopes to expand upon the work of her predecessor by identifying new programs and building partnerships to help make those opportunities possible.
"I'm really excited about meeting and building relationships with property owners and hearing out what they feel are the issues and problems that need to be solved," she said.
Painting and refurbishing SEPTA street poles, adding more protective tree wells and finding funding for pedestrian crosswalks are a few projects that Williamson would like to tackle right away. This year, BID's board will be looking into re-doing the street banners along Germantown Avenue, she added.
One of the key challenges for Mt. Airy's commercial corridor is vacancies, Williamson noted.
She is optimistic that by working together with other civics, like Mt. Airy USA and the 6300 Block Alliance, BID will be able to come up with creative solutions to attract new tenants to Germantown Avenue. A dedicated retail recruiter is "something we feel would be a great asset here," Williamson said.
In the meantime, filling empty storefronts with pop up shops is one temporary remedy BID and MAUSA want to further explore.
A critical difference between New Kensington and Mt. Airy's business districts is available funding, she explained. NKCDC did not have a business improvement district, but instead had specific grant funds that allowed the organization to provide services like business assistance and event programming. Mt. Airy's commercial drag, however, is not eligible for that same funding.
Heading up the BID will be a good mix of administrative and creative problem solving and programming, Williamson said. "My experience at New Kensington and also as a city planner will help navigate the processes here," she said.
Property owners and neighbors will have a chance to meet Angie Williamson at BID's open house, to be held at the Upsala House, 6430 Germantown Ave. The event will take place on Jan. 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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Residents can meet BID executive director Angie Williamson on Jan. 28 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Upsala house on Germantown Avenue.