Janesville66.8°

Commission OKs plan for downtown BID

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JAMES P. LEUTE
August 19, 2008
— One speaker likened a proposed Business Improvement District to a train that will carry downtown Janesville and its supporters to a revitalized city center that’s been missing from the community’s landscape for decades.

Members of Janesville’s Plan Commission agreed Monday, voting overwhelmingly in support of the BID that is on track to start operations in January.


Members Steve Werner, Meridith Helgerson, Lori Hanewold, Kathy Voskuil and Nancy Zolidas voted in favor of the BID, while members Tom McDonald and Anda O’Connell, abstained over conflicts of interest.


The vote followed a public hearing in which 23 people spoke. Just more than half favored the BID, which would assess commercial, manufacturing and mixed-use properties at $2.80 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The minimum assessment would be $275, while the maximum would be $3,500.


Opponents still have two opportunities to derail the BID.


By state statute, the BID is defeated if an opposition petition is signed by owners of properties representing more than 40 percent of the value of the property to be assessed in the district. That happened to a similar BID proposal in 2003.


If that doesn’t happen within 30 days, the city council will have the final say when it votes on the BID at its Monday, Sept. 22, meeting.


If approved, the BID would have a first-year budget of $199,500, of which $118,000 would come from property assessments and the remainder from city coffers.


The budget would target:


-- $21,700 for beautification and maintenance.


-- $30,000 for recruiting new downtown tenants and professional marketing.


-- $17,800 for events and celebrations, including an annual downtown event that would become a tradition.


-- $50,000 for signs to direct people downtown and landscaping.


-- $80,000 for personnel, rent and expenses.


Everyone who spoke Monday expressed his or her interest in the revitalization of downtown Janesville.


But several voiced opposition to the formation of a BID, citing “smoke and mirrors” in the proposed budget, a downtown drug and panhandling problem that a BID won’t solve and an unfair assessment procedure.


Christine Wilke of Wilke Chiropractic and Leo Sokolik of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said they’ve invested and maintained their buildings without any help—or assessments.


“For anyone to imply that those who oppose this are somehow not in support of the downtown is unfair and unjust,” Wilke said.


Dave Abrahamson, who owns Bee Line Alignment on Water Street, agreed that the BID wouldn’t be perfect for every property owner.


“But it’s absolutely got to be fair,” he said.


Morris Olsen, who owns Denny’s Auto Center on West Milwaukee Street, said the timing for the BID is wrong, primarily because of the economic uncertainties the community faces.


“The handful of people that want this have the (property) value,” he said. “Us small people can’t do much about it.


“We pay more; they pay less.”


Olsen suggested that a BID would be better funded without minimum and maximum assessments.


BID task force members have said the bell curve to fund the BID is balanced. The owners of the five properties with the highest assessments will contribute 14 percent of the budget, while the 68 properties assessed at the minimum will add 15 percent.


Bill Sodemann, who owns Phones Plus on West Milwaukee, said he’s not opposed to funding to improve the downtown, but the process is un-American. He noted that one property owner can start the BID process, but it takes 40 percent of the assessed property value to stop it.


“It’s legal, but it doesn’t mean it’s the proper thing to do,” he said.


Pete Kealey, who owns two properties downtown, said the area needs a strong, unified voice to move forward.


“This is not the pet project of a few people,” he said.


Mark Cullen, chairman of J.P. Cullen & Sons, said his company has done construction work in several cities that have implemented BIDs.


“You can always tell you’re in a different kind of community when you’re in a BID downtown,” he said.


Jim Alverson, who also owns several properties downtown, said the downtown is moving in the right direction, thanks to a dedicated legion of volunteers and investors who eventually burn out. The BID, he said, will amplify those efforts.



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