Downtown pursues economic improvement district

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Greencastle's downtown property owners are preparing to approach the Greencastle City Council to implement an Economic Improvement District.

What is an Economic Improvement District? First off, many communities across the country use this tool to improve neighborhoods and business districts. In some states, a more common term is Business Improvement District. Some like to think of these districts as a property owners' association to work on their behalf.

State law allows for a group of property owners to come together to raise funds to provide services in a defined geographic area. In this case, the property owners in the Courthouse Square Business District are working together. The geographic area runs from City Hall to Market Street on the east and west, and from Columbia Street to Walnut Street on the north and south.

Discussion of the establishment of a district started in early 2006. After much research, the effort gained steam in the summer of 2008. Greencastle's Economic Improvement District is modeled after a successful effort in Goshen. In this era of property tax cuts and diminished revenues for local units of government, this is a tool to provide funds for downtown improvements and maintenance that the City might never have funds to accomplish.

Through establishment of the Economic Improvement District, property owners impose upon themselves an assessment to raise funds for use in the district. The fees are collected through the property tax billing system. For a business, the fees are deductible as a business expense.

State law lists the elements that must be part of the petition process. The petition must include a map of the area, list of property owners, proposed budget, and proposed list of board members for the district. The law also requires that the majority of board members must be property owners.

As this is a grass roots, bottom-up effort, the petition must be signed by a minimum of 51 percent of the total property owners in the district and by the owners representing at least 66 2/3 percent of the assessed valuation in the district. These thresholds must be reached prior to the City Council being able to consider the request to establish the district.

Local property owner Trudy Selvia noted, "There has been a team of eight interested property owners, merchants and business leaders that studied the issue and developed the proposal." Selvia continued, "These individuals have also spent time making personal calls on property owners to explain the proposal. We still have a few remaining property owners to contact."

A public information session will be held on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m at Almost Home. The session will provide an overview of the district. Those with questions or ideas may bring them to the session for discussion. RSVP to Tammy Shafer at 653-7877, extension 14 if you would like to attend as light refreshments will be served.

During the past summer, the City of Greencastle provided some seed money for downtown plantings and maintenance. In the future, the downtown property owners potentially will assess themselves to provide for the annual plantings and maintenance activities downtown. Work might also include litter and weed control, snow removal, sidewalk repair, and other benefits. The City will continue to support the downtown with additional capital investment such as additional benches, decorative street lights, and other amenities.

The overall goal is to ratchet up the level of maintenance and make downtown Greencastle, as the "living room" of the community, more attractive to shoppers, workers, visitors and current and prospective property owners and investors.

Gail Smith, owner of Almost Home Restaurant and someone who is about to open a new additional business downtown, noted, "I'm really glad a number of my fellow property owners are stepping up in this way. This is not just about our individual properties, this really is about the future of Greencastle as a whole."

So far, 59.26 percent of the downtown property owners, representing 69.87 percent of the assessed value have signed a petition to support the establishment of the district. Others, while declining the opportunity to sign the petition, are still supportive of the efforts to improve the area.

On December 9th, Gail Smith, Gigi Fenlon, and Trudy Selvia, all downtown property owners, will present the petition to the Greencastle City Council formally requesting that the Council establish the Economic Improvement District.

"We hope the City Council will take a serious look at our proposal," noted Gigi Fenlon. "We greatly appreciate the support of all of the property owners that signed the petition and are willing to invest in improving the Courthouse Square Business District."

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