Saying surveys on downtown Chattanooga show it has "lost some of its sparkle," the River City Co. is looking at setting up a business improvement district in the central city.
A fee on property owners in the district could provide funding to help with issues such as safety, cleanliness, panhandling, beautification and marketing, said Kim White, River City's president and chief executive officer.
"It's a way to provide added resources above what the city will do," she said, noting that more people are living downtown and there's an increase in the demand for basic services.
Cities in Tennessee with downtown business improvement districts, annual assessed budget, top services:
* Knoxville: $600,000; marketing, security, beautification
* Memphis: $2.8 million; cleanliness, safety, planning, economic development
* Nashville: $1.7 million; cleanliness, safety, economic development, marketing
Source: River City Co.
The district initially under consideration would be bordered by the riverfront, U.S. Highway 27, 13th Street, Lindsay Street and Georgia Avenue.
River City, a nonprofit that oversees downtown redevelopment, plans to have public meetings today on crafting such a district, which White said are already in operation in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis.
"We're one of the only midsize cities in the country that doesn't have one," she said.
White said a petition would go to property owners in the district and, if more than 50 percent of those in the district representing over two-thirds of total assessed value sign it, then the matter would go before the Chattanooga City Council.
A fee on property owners within the district footprint would be assessed, White said. In Tennessee, the fee typically ranges from 20 cents to 60 cents per $100 of assessed value, she said. A board of property owners would decide how the money is spent, White said.
"We're not looking at something that is overly burdensome," she said. "It's one way to solve some of the issues."
Matt McGauley, chief executive officer of downtown landholder Fidelity Trust Co., said he wants to learn more, but doesn't have a position on creation of such a district.
"On a philosophical level, it could be a great value-added element to our downtown," he said. "The devil is really in the details. Just because other cities have them doesn't mean it's right for us."
Josh Patton, owner of the Chicken Salad Chick restaurant at 629 Market St., said that while he doesn't own his space, he'll end up paying for the district through lease payments to the property owner.
"If it costs me a few thousand dollars a year and will provide benefits, I'm all for it," he said.
But, Patton said, he's worried the district wouldn't address parking, which he termed the No. 1 compliant from his customers.
Also, he said, he wondered if River City's mission already ought to address many of the issues a business improvement district would be formed to meet.
White said the district's board would decide how to use the money.
She said some districts have people who serve as "downtown ambassadors," working with police and social service groups.
"It's more eyes on the streets," White said.
She said the district would not replace pre-existing general city services, but enhance them. The city would be required by state statute to document its base level of pre-district services.
The district would have an initial term of five to 10 years, White said. To extend the district, a new petition process must be undertaken, she said. But, White said, the renewal rate nationally is 99 percent.
River City has retained a consultant, Progressive Urban Management Associates, which has helped create or renew over 80 BIDs to help determine if a district is feasible and what services people want to see.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.