A majority of the support necessary to form a downtown business improvement district shows interest, according to a former Carson City official.
Linda Ritter, city manager some seven years ago, pegged support at 58 percent and said she has been working under the radar to get that and more. She said her effort isn’t being paid for by city government and she’s working with Dana Lee Fruend, former president of the Downtown 20/20 business organization who no longer is with that group. Ritter said this initiative involves the downtown property owners.
“I’ve invited the city in, but they haven’t been driving it,” she said. “I’m a volunteer coordinator helping them come up with this.”
She’s seeking property owners’ buy-in to form such a district, which would be a separate and private sector companion to the city’s proposal to enliven downtown via streetscape changes. Inviting the city in, she said, meant having Community Development Director Lee Plemel and Transportation Manager Patrick Pittenger show at meetings to explain the conceptual design for city government changes aimed at encouraging foot and bicycle traffic.
City government plans to spend $6.8 million on the streetscape, plus $2.1 million in companion underground utility work needed sooner or later, to make downtown pedestrian friendly. Ritter said her goal is to get 75 percent property ownership buy-in interest regarding district formation by Nov. 6, which is the Board of Supervisors’ first meeting next month,
Ritter already has support from property owners representing nearly three-fifths of the assessed valuation in the project’s area.
That 58 percent support figure includes the assessed value of a Hop & Mae Adams Foundation’s property unit. Ritter said the foundation holdings include 30 percent of the overall assessed value in the potential district. It’s administered by Steve Neighbors, the Idaho man who runs the foundation of the late Carson Nugget casino owners. Neighbors said by telephone he hasn’t seen the city’s streetscape design, but does support forming a district.
“I’ll be down there again, not next week but the following week, and I’m going to get updated on that,” he said of the city design. In the past, he indicated he’s staying out of controversies over the number of Carson Street lanes and related design. But this week clearly supported forming a commercial vitalization district, as state law labels it, which often gets called an improvement district or BID.
Ritter said she has contacted the various downtown property owners in the possible BID and, after three or four meetings with some, is pleased with progress. The footprint, which runs from 5th to William Street along Carson Street, could become a BID to accompany the street changes that include widening sidewalks, cutting vehicle traffic lanes from four to three, removing the median and adding bicycle lanes.
“So far I’m getting good results,” Ritter said.
In a “frequently asked questions” document with her memo sent to downtown property owners to assess interest, Ritter noted “several members of the Board of Supervisors” have indicated creation of a district “must go forward before the (city’s) project receives final approval.” One board member adamant on that subject is Supervisor Brad Bonkowski.
“I am pleased to see property owners coming to the table to engage in creating a BID,” Bonkowski said. He said he has been at some meetings with property owners, but noted they aren’t the only players.
“I still want to see business owners participate as they will receive significant benefits from the corridor improvements and will be the primary players in marketing the downtown core, creating an events calendar to bring people downtown on a continuing basis, and are the people most invested in making downtown a vibrant bike and pedestrian friendly destination.”
Once business and property owners have made a commitment, he said, there can be a true partnership that is necessary for success.
Mayor Robert Crowell said he hasn’t attended meetings, but had seen documents from Ritter regarding her efforts and progress.
“I’ve read the material she sent out,” Crowell said. He said it included assessment information for a district based on $50,000 as the private BID budget. He endorsed the initiative as a way for such a district to have a hand in its own fate and to provide maintenance after the proposed city project is finished.
“Those are the two main reasons to go down that road,” he said.
Ritter’s Oct. 7 overture posed the question of whether a property owner supports the city’s design concept and whether he or she is interested in formation of a BID. It also informed those she’s still contacting she had achieved the 58 percent support level. She asked for a response by Friday.
She explained BID formation could be by the city’s governing board, but not if it’s opposed by owners representing a third of the assessed value, or by owners themselves if those representing half the assessed value agree.
The city streetscape project is the latest version of a downtown remake plan first put together when Ritter was city manager. She now is retired from government but has done consulting work for city government in the past, though she insisted this doesn’t fall into that category.
“I’m not being paid,” said the former city staff chief executive. “I don’t want to be paid, and I’m not looking for work.”