Our View: The time is now for BID proposal
January 14, 2014
On Wednesday, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs will host its annual meeting, and Julie Underdahl, executive director of the Cherry Creek North Business Improvement District, will headline the event. Underdahl will talk about how Cherry Creek has benefited from a BID that has successfully funded improvements in that area of Denver.
The purpose of Underdahl's appearance at the Mainstreet meeting is to provide information, and hopefully inspiration, for stakeholders who appear poised to move forward with the process of funding the already established BID in downtown Steamboat.
We think the timing is right for placing a BID funding proposal back before voters. This is not a general election. Only those who are commercial property owners in the BID district, which encompasses Lincoln Avenue and Yampa and Oak streets from Third to 12th streets, will have a say on the issue. The BID proposal would impose a commercial property tax to generate revenue that could be used to fund marketing efforts, maintenance and safety projects and special events.
Back in 2007, a BID property tax was narrowly defeated by only six votes (68-62), three of which were not signed and could not be counted. Due to a sluggish economy, plans to go back before voters with the BID were placed on indefinite hold, and now more than six years later, we agree with many downtown stakeholders who think the time is right to revisit the issue.
With the Yampa Street promenade project earning the overwhelming support of voters this fall, $900,000 of the city's lodging tax dollars will go toward the project. Plans to improve the entire downtown area can build off of that momentum.
This winter, Steamboat's sales tax revenue has grown and the housing market appears to be rallying — the economy seems ripe for new investments, and one of those investments should involve downtown property owners self-imposing a tax, funding the BID and moving ahead with projects that will encourage more retail and entertainment activity downtown.
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Now is the time for plans to be discussed, costs to be evaluated and the return on investment to be calculated. The money generated from the BID is not expected to produce hundreds of thousands of dollars but instead a more modest sum (still to be determined) that can be leveraged off of the lodging tax contribution for the Yampa promenade project.
Even minor, carefully targeted improvements downtown could become the catalyst for a broader effort. Public improvements can incentivize private investment, creating an environment of growth opportunity that benefits both new and existing businesses.
The board that is charged with overseeing the BID has sat dormant for a number of years, but just last month, five new, well-qualified members were appointed to fill out the seven-person board. Re-energized leadership with fresh vision is just what the project needs to move it ahead to the funding phase.
Barnett described a BID as a kind of homeowners association involving commercial property owners who agree to tax themselves to fund improvements aimed at benefiting the entire downtown business district. BIDs can work well because they require a buy-in from stakeholders who then have a vested interest in making sure the downtown area thrives and attracts more shoppers as well as business investment.
Questions still remain about what improvements will be pursued, and there will need to be open conversation and assessment to weigh the needs and evaluate the benefits of the plan as it pertains to the businesses located along the three different streets included in the downtown BID. But we think, with planning, good intent and visionary thinking, a plan that benefits the entire downtown business district as a whole is possible.
It also will be crucial that the BID board engage in a clear and concerted effort to educate downtown business owners about the benefits of a BID, and Wednesday's annual Mainstreet meeting sets the stage for the start of that process.
The time is now for the downtown BID to take another look at funding itself and taking Steamboat's downtown business district to the next level.