Once again the future of the Crescent City Downtown Parking and Business Improvement District (known as BID) is in the news. There is an old adage that “All publicity is good publicity,” and while it is good to see so many people interested and discussing the future of downtown, we would like to take this opportunity to include the community in the discussion and clarify some information that seems to have been left out of the informal survey that was recently taken.
The BID was put in place by the City Council at the request of the downtown businesses in 1993, as an assessment to businesses that fell into a specific area in the downtown. Our BID, like numerous other BIDs, was created to promote the area as a destination to tourists, a shopping and business district for locals, to provide and construct improvements, promote activities within the district and to help stem the erosion of business from our traditional downtown area.
How the BID was created is a matter of public record. A city ordinance was created regarding how the BID would operate and identifying the assessments that would be charged. The ordinance was approved and was put into place in accordance with state law (Parking and Business Improvement Area Law of 1989, Streets and Highways Code Section 36500 et seq.).
As with many BIDs, the hope was that after a few years the BID would become self-sufficient and could be formed as a nonprofit. A few businesses paid their annual assessment, many more did not. The ordinance was never enforced and BID continued to struggle along with an operating budget that fluctuated between $3,000 and $5,000 depending on who paid and when — much of BID’s original mission could not be accomplished.
For 17 years the BID has done its best to promote the area; in fact, our promotions are the only things we seemingly are recognized for. The BID does put on the annual Christmas tree lighting and arrival of Santa, a long-standing community tradition that has existed for more than 30 years. The BID added a light parade and some late night holiday shopping events during the holiday season.
In recent years BID has sponsored a Halloween parade that is family-friendly and provides a safe “trick or treating” event for the children of the community.
While we are proud of these events and would be saddened if they had to be discontinued, we would like to address some of the other things that the BID Advisory Board does that happen below the radar:
• Since 2006, BID has partnered with organizations such as the Mural Society, facilitating permits and scheduling events for their Mural in a Day project(s).
• BID has worked with the city to restore the Tsunami fountain, which had fallen into disrepair and now is once again a lovely memorial.
• BID Advisory Board members regularly volunteer their time to meet with city staff to address issues of maintenance in the area. The newly painted signs on Tsunami Landing and clean-up efforts in the public parking lots are a direct result of BID.
• BID has facilitated a series of public meetings for Police Chief Doug Plack when the panhandling ordinance was drafted.
• BID has been used as a sounding board for upcoming city projects in landscaping, maintenance, and BID was successful in getting several new crosswalks added in the district during the recent road construction projects.
• BID has created and sponsored a Wednesday Farmers Market, which has grown over the last three years. There were 19 vendors at the last market.
• BID has always advocated “shop local programs” and recently launched The 3/50 Project (350 project.net ) which explains how spending $100 at local independent stores returns $68 to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures, versus $43 when you spend it at a chain store and nothing when you shop out of town or online.
In 2006, the BID Advisory Board brought the issues facing BID to the attention of the City Council. At that time the Council recognized the positive effect that a fully functioning BID could have and directed city staff and the board to begin the process of bringing the BID and the city into compliance with the intent of the ordinance. We have now reached that point. The city has begun enforcing the collection of the assessments and the BID has a budget that can be used to comply with its mission statement.
It should be noted that the assessments have not been raised since they were set in 1993, and in some cases we have lowered them, as is the case with booth renters like those in salons.
Included in the 2010-2011 BID assessment report presented to City Council in July of this year, were plans to install and provide free wifi for local shoppers, residents and tourists within the district. This will provide those working and living in the district a reason to stay downtown and encourages others to come downtown. In this report, the Council also approved the purchase of security cameras for the BID. This was originally discussed as a safety measure, although during presentations and discussion, it was also determined to be useful as a tool for tourism allowing viewing of our city and events online such as the Fourth of July parade. New street lights and public restrooms are in our long-term planning strategy.
BID understands that these things may not seem to result in dollars in the pockets of individual business owners, but they do create a walkable, shopable and livable area. They create a place for all of us to come together as community.
Enforcement of the ordinance has resulted in a lot of uproar. The city has levied the assessment on the business license — as a way to enforce collection. People talk of voluntarily paying, but the last 17 years show that hasn’t happened. Over the last 17 years the BID Board has asked the city to grant amnesty from back assessments and late fees numerous times so as not to place burdens on the businesses.
In July, Cynthia Speakman of Del Norte Travel, along with Jackie Simonson and Debbie Long of Wendy’s Salon circulated an informal survey regarding BID fees. The survey asks the simple question, “Do you want the BID assessments to continue?” with yes and no boxes as options to check. No one from the city or the BID was asked to participate. Signatures and some comments were gathered, and on the surface it seems that over 70 businesses in the district do not want to pay an assessment.
We have always welcomed those who attend meetings to give input. This survey could have been a great tool to start the discussion of changes that could happen to the BID. However this “informal survey” was never advertised as a resolution to dissolve BID. The time has come for calm conversation, not yelling at City Council meetings. Decisions need to be made as to how our downtown is to move forward, what it should look like and even what things, like the Christmas Parade, should continue. All progress comes with a price tag.
Individual businesses and vendors can and should take credit for their individual successes ... it was never the BID’s job to make them successful. As mentioned before, the BID’s mission is to promote the area, create opportunity to bring people downtown, provide options for pooling our marketing power and to facilitate a cooperative working relationship with the city, smoothing the way for businesses in the district, and helping to create community identity.
When faced with the same economic hardships we face, loss of the timber and fishing industries and loss of revenue to malls and chain stores, communities to the south of us also created BIDs. These BIDs are fully funded and their downtowns have made a comeback.
The bottom line is we are all in this together.
Billie Kaye Gavin-Tygart is president and Cheryl Corpstein is vice president of Crescent City’s Business Improvement District.