One of the previous times the city tried to create a downtown business improvement district (BID), the plan “went down in flames,” said Janesville City Council President Doug Marklein.
Not this time.
The BID the council unanimously approved Monday received almost universal support since Downtown Janesville Inc. first started working on it in late 2015.
That’s because this time, it was a grassroots effort pushed by Downtown Janesville Inc. rather than something that came from the “top down.” During previous BID efforts, downtown business owners felt like city officials were forcing the idea down their throats, Marklein said.
Now that it has been approved, businesses within the BID will be charged annual special assessments. Certain properties, such as residential and city-owned properties, will be exempt.
Downtown business owners will pay either $2.25, $1.50 or $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Those brackets are based on where the business is located. The money raised will go toward beautification, extra snow removal, events and more to improve downtown.
Downtown Janesville Inc.’s most exciting contributions used to be when it would give $5,000 grants to downtown businesses for small projects, such as fixing an awning, organization member Dave Marshick said.
“Now the exciting developments are The Venue, the town square, the Bodacious shops,” he said. “It’s just a very exciting time in downtown.”
“The momentum downtown is like nothing I’ve seen,” Councilwoman Sue Conley agreed.
Business owners had a chance to petition against the BID since the Janesville Plan Commission recommended approving it last month. Had at least 40 percent of businesses come out against the BID, the matter would not have gone before the council.
One woman who spoke during the public hearing Monday expressed concern her business would not benefit from the BID as much as other downtown retailers.
Under state law, businesses can’t negotiate individually to pay less than their assessments call for.
Properties that are part residential and part business must pay their full assessments, Marshick said.
The council on Monday also approved a nine-member BID board appointed by City Manager Mark Freitag. Marshick will be on the board.
Part of the BID will include hiring a part-time manager to coordinate Downtown Janesville Inc.’s efforts.
The manager could help coordinate downtown pop-up shops, should the city explore that possibility further, said Downtown Janesville Inc. member Britten Langfoss.
The council commended Downtown Janesville Inc.’s efforts in proposing a BID that received so much support.
This plan was “crafted with care,” Councilman Rich Gruber said.
A year after the BID is established, downtown businesses could petition to dissolve it if it’s mismanaged, said Dayna Sarver, economic development coordinator.
Earlier BID attempts’ failures were probably partly due to a poor economy. Janesville hit the “bottom” at some point, but times have changed, Marklein said.
“We’re slowly arising from that bottom,” Marklein said. “I think it’s going to be a success, and I think the businesses working on faith will see their faith justified.”