Why do we need a business association and a civic association?
Great question, and it's one we get a lot!
There are great benefits to having both a business association and a civic association. The Virginia Highland neighborhood is lucky enough to have a long-standing history and a fantastic crew through its Virginia Highland Civic Association, established in 1971.
In the early 2000’s, Virginia Highland actually had a business association that was run by the late Warren Bruno, owner of Atkins Park Tavern. It consisted of a web business directory and email list for members. Fast forward 20 years, after Bruno’s original business association had been formally dissolved. We created the Virginia Highland District Association to give a voice to our North Highland business corridor and allow one organization to focus on the vitality and quality of our historic business district.
Across the US, cities give voice to residents and businesses in different ways. Some cities, or even large neighborhoods, will have a dedicated Chamber of Commerce, like Winter Park, Orlando. Smaller cities might have a department or committee within the government, similar to our Main Street Program, which is historically done within the Economic Development Department. They’ll have staff dedicated to support business district vitality, meaning all of the public space investments, events, and economic development is paid for, or coordinated by, the city; see the City of Tifton as an example.
Atlanta is special. She is made up of over 200 neighborhoods, each with its own character, history, nuances, and sense of place. Unfortunately, our city government is not able to assign personnel to each neighborhood. In fact, our government has one Department of City Planning that is in charge of all of Atlanta. That department is made up of other departments, including housing, historic preservation, and economic development. However, each department attends to the entire city for its area of focus, which gives them a more zoomed-out or compartmentalized view of our city. They need individual neighborhoods like us to advocate and help them learn what we want, what works, and what doesn’t.
Atlanta’s main feedback loop with residents utilizes what they call a Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU), a legislated board in direct contact with the city. There are 25 planning units across Atlanta that line up similar to our city council districts to give the residents a voice and communication channel to city council. Virginia Highland resides in NPU-F. Currently, the best way to advocate for your city is through your civic association, NPU, councilmember, or 311.
Business association’s are a relatively new concept to Atlanta; there are only about 15 in the city, most younger than 5 years old. So what’s the number one reason why we need business association’s and civic association’s? To give the city as much help as possible to advocate for what we want. And what do we want? To encourage a deeper connection in our lives, protect our environment, conserve our culture, and be socially responsible.
Virginia Highland District Association
Stated Mission: “Support VaHi small businesses through economic development, public realm investment, and community engagement.”
Established: August 2020
- An all volunteer, elected board of directors with a few paid employees for operations, communications, and marketing
- Support and advocacy for businesses along the N. Highland corridor from Atkins Park to Morningside
- Public spaces and beautification projects
- Safety initiatives and partnerships
- Events and community building initiatives
- Maintain sidewalk planters from Atkins Park to Highland/Amsterdam, about 80 planters
- Quarterly business district community clean-ups
Economic Development Committee
- Establish and maintain communications with all stakeholders including city representatives, landlords, business owners, and residents
- Host bi-annual happy hours with business owners and managers to strengthen community within the business district
- Learn and follow Main Street America rubric to become an Affiliate District
- Host events for all audiences to experience Virginia Highland, lifting foot traffic and awareness
- Events include Porchfest, Food Truck Fridays, and Winterfest
- Events feature small business vendors from in and around Atlanta
- Coordinate VaHi 311 Task Force for public improvements
- Brand the business district as a destination location with a support small business campaign
- Educate visitors and residents on the benefits of community tourism and the story of Virginia Highland
Virginia Highland Civic Association
Incorporated Mission: “promotion and the furtherance of the common good, general welfare and interests of residents of The Virginia-Highland.”
Established: 1972 (celebrating 50th anniversary!)
- An all volunteer organization with a board elected by residents
- Public and private park maintenance and beautification
- Infrastructure and beautification projects
- Advocacy for neighborhood Master Plan in partnership with NPU-F and stakeholders
- Host of monthly public meetings
- VHCA ownership and management of North Highland Park
- Bridge City services and improvements for three City of Atlanta Parks in VaHi, Orme Park, VaHi Triangle Park, and John Howell Memorial Park
- Official city liaison for residential and commercial planning and development
- Considers and votes on recommendations to NPU-F for business licenses, residential variances, building permits, etc. Coordinate with multiple stakeholders in regard to zoning questions and rezonings
- Historic Preservation subcommittee spearheaded the recent renovation of Fire Station 19
- Community events: fundraisers, such as Summerfest, Tour of Homes & VAHI Concert Series, as well as free community events
- Local school support and Partnerships, such as grants to SPARK, VHE, YWCA, Howard and Midtown
- Grant allocation to local schools, libraries, churches, synagogues, and other nonprofits, totalling $295,641 since 2007
- Publisher of two monthly issues of community newsletter, The VOICE
- Safety and security advocacy with Atlanta Police Department