Plan for downtown Chattanooga business improvement district raises questions

Plan for downtown Chattanooga business improvement district raises questions

District could improve safety, cleanliness, retail and parking, supporters say

October 3rd, 2018 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / A view of downtown Chattanooga is seen from the Tower atop the Electric Power Building at the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Market Street. Some of the landmarks include, the James Buidling, the Chattanooga Bank Buidling, First Tennessee, and Sun Trust.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

This story was updated Oct. 3, 2018, at 9:27 p.m. with more information.

Downtown Chattanooga property owners and merchants on Wednesday raised lots of questions about a possible business improvement district (BID) including its financing, cost and services.

But there was also talk that downtown could use some of the potential services such as a focus on safety, cleanliness, marketing, and retail support.

"Downtown needs help," said John Wiygul of High Point Climbing and Fitness on Broad Street.

Contributed photo / A possible business improvement district could stretch from the Tennessee River to 13th Street in downtown Chattanooga.

Contributed photo / A possible business improvement district...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Brad Segal, president of the Denver-based consulting group Progressive Urban Management Associates, told about two dozen people in the first of three meetings Wednesday that its aim is to figure out if a BID works for Chattanooga.

"It's a flexible tool," he said. "There are a whole variety of service options."

He said plans are to survey people at the meetings and then put it online to gain more feedback.

A fee on the 500 or so property owners in the BID could provide funding to help with issues identified by people, 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.

The district initially under consideration would be bordered by the riverfront, U.S. Highway 27, 13th Street, Lindsay Street and Georgia Avenue. But the district could narrow depending on what River City and consultants hear at the meetings and see in surveys.

WHAT'S NEXT

Steps which could lead to business improvement district:

2018
* Online survey results

* Create operating plan

* Determine services, budget, cost

2019
* Draw up a petition landholders would sign to OK BID

* City Council ordinance

* Fee shows up on tax bills

2020
* Money available for spending by BID board

Source: Progressive Urban Management Associates

Segal said creation of a district isn't set in stone, adding his firm has advised about two dozen cities to abandon the idea mostly due to lack of interest.

River City, a nonprofit that oversees downtown redevelopment in Chattanooga, said such districts are already in operation in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis.

"Our downtown has some work to do," said White. "I think we're falling behind."

Renee Mote, general manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott on Chestnut Street, said all of the potential services listed in the survey appear helpful.

"I think it would be a good thing," she said about the district after the meeting.

Wiygul said he liked the options involving public safety and beautification.

"People need to feel safe," he said.

Safety steps could include hiring "ambassadors" or "navigators" who are often trained to deal with panhandlers or the homeless, Segal said. He said such personnel can help the homeless get into transitional housing.

Such a program in Sacramento, California, dramatically cut the number of homeless people downtown, Segal said.

"In California, [homelessness] it's out of control," he said. "It's a crisis."

Also, Segal said, some cities use cameras to help in safety.

He said he has noticed some empty storefronts in downtown Chattanooga, and retail support is one area in which a BID can help.

"There's some gaps" downtown, Segal said.

Parking and mobility also is an option on the survey of services. Improving parking management, promoting transit alternatives and helping signage are some possible actions.

In addition, a BID can support capital improvements such as enhanced lighting and streetscape beautification.

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.

Segal said if the decision is made to move ahead, all the property owners will pay something, though some may chip in more than others depending on the services.

He said, for example, if there's more commercial benefit, then those property owners may pay more than residential landholders.

"But everybody pays something," Segal said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.


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