Sunday, February 11, 2007
Main Street Steamboat Springs is wise to consider a Business Improvement District for the downtown area.
Such a district is a smart way for downtown merchants to work together on needed improvements. The special tax district essentially would allow downtown property owners and businesses to tax themselves to pay for infrastructure improvements and other projects.
Specifically, Main Street Steamboat is seeking funds for increased snow removal, enhanced marketing, intersection upgrades and possibly a parking garage. All, we believe, would enhance the experience of shopping downtown.
In the case of downtown, an improvement district is a better approach than an Urban Renewal Authority.
Under a URA, some property tax revenues from all taxing entities are diverted back into the district. It is not an additional tax, but a commitment of a portion of future tax dollars.
Last August, Main Street officials asked the Steamboat Springs City Council to create an Urban Renewal Authority downtown. A URA already is in place in the vicinity of the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. Ultimately, the City Council rejected the idea of a downtown URA, saying there was not enough information.
A Business Improvement District would be an additional tax, levied only on properties within the boundaries of the district.
For the Steamboat Springs City Council to create a BID downtown, Main Street officials need to submit a petition signed by property owners who account for 50 percent of the district's acreage and 50 percent of the district's assessed property value. If the council received the petition and created a downtown BID, voters in the district would need to approve any tax that would provide the district with funding.
Tracy Barnett, program manager for Main Street, said meetings were held last week and that property owners have indicated a mostly favorable response to the BID, while business tenants have been more skeptical.
There are a lot of good things happening in downtown. We believe major mixed-use developments such as Howelsen Place, Alpenglow, Riverwalk, The Victoria, The Olympian and Waterside Village and public projects including the expansion of Bud Werner Memorial Library, the new Soda Creek Elementary School and renovations to the Routt County Courthouse are having a dramatic impact on the transformation of downtown. That transformation is for the better.
But downtown infrastructure must keep pace with the changes. Keeping sidewalks clear and ensuring inviting lighting and streetscapes are important. So too is marketing the downtown area not only to visitors, but also to retailers who can enhance the shopping mix downtown.
Finding enough parking to accommodate the increased residential and commercial buildings will be perhaps the biggest challenge. We continue to believe that a multi-level parking garage one block off Lincoln Avenue is something that needs to be seriously considered.
A Business Improvement District is a reasonable approach to addressing these issues. It puts the financial responsibility for downtown improvements on those who stand to benefit the most - downtown property owners. Although it's only in the planning stages, we think this is an idea that can work and, ultimately, make downtown Steamboat Springs better.