The timing is finally right to create a business improvement district in downtown Janesville.
Proposals failed in 2003 and 2008, but a lot has changed since those attempts. For one, the 2008 proposal coincided with a deep recession when businesses were leery of making new investments.
But now, with the economy expanding, downtown’s prospects are improving. Residents can see the revival in progress along the west bank of the Rock River near the Court Street bridge, where construction crews are building a new town square.
As part of the downtown ARISE plan, the town square is one of several projects expected to draw more people to the area and make it more pedestrian friendly. Next in line is the reconstruction of the Milwaukee Street bridge.
The proposed business improvement district, or BID, would complement ARISE projects and allow downtown businesses to maximize ARISE’s positive effects.
Furthermore, this latest proposal strikes a compromise with businesses located farther from the downtown’s epicenter. A sticking point in the past has been disagreement among business owners about who stands to benefit most from a BID. The latest proposal won’t satisfy all critics, but it makes a sincere effort to address naysayers’ concerns by adjusting the special assessment based on a property’s proximity to central downtown.
Merchants at the heart of the district would pay $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, while those properties in two outlying zones would be taxed at lower rates—$1.50 and $1 per $1,000, respectively. For the record, The Gazette building would be in the $1.50 zone.
It makes sense to charge businesses along Main Street more because they would receive most of the foot traffic generated from both ARISE and BID initiatives. But to be clear, the BID would raise only a modest sum, with an annual budget of $100,000.
Businesses would realize immediate, tangible benefits by joining the district. The BID’s most important job will be to remove snow piles to make the downtown more easily accessible. The city plows the streets but leaves snow piled at the curb, which can hinder pedestrian traffic. Removing those piles in a coordinated fashion would convey a welcoming image and show that merchants take pride in the downtown’s appearance.
The district also would pay for beautification. The ARISE plan focuses on capital projects, but it won’t do the small things, such as decorating streets with flowers and banners. Think of the ARISE plan as putting up the Christmas tree. The BID would decorate that tree, and it would seem foolish to put up a Christmas tree but leave its limbs bare. Making a beautiful street counts for more than people might think. If downtown looks dour or sloppy, people will be less inclined to spend time and money there.
Another aspect of this proposal would be to create a part-time executive director to oversee district initiatives, including the creation of two events tailored to the downtown area and businesses. The director would be responsible for marketing the downtown, selling it to residents and encouraging them to visit.
We already can hear the naysayers grumbling and complaining about their hard-earned money being wasted on a BID. These property owners might circulate a petition to try to defeat it, but open-minded individuals shouldn’t fall for their gloomy sales pitch. We encourage property owners who opposed previous plans to reconsider their objections and view this new BID proposal in a new, positive light.