Downtown Leaders Seek Improvement District
Downtown business leaders Thursday presented a petition for a parking and improvement district to city leaders, who found themselves quickly attacked by critics of the plan.
City Council members got a description of the planned district, which would restore about 300 parking meters and spend about $675,000 per year to attract more shoppers and maintain downtown’s vitality.
The petition, signed by about 500 business and property owners, set off a flurry of opposition during an hourlong session to brief the council on the proposal.
Attorney Steve Eugster said the proposal “does not help restore downtown. It will actually help destroy it.”
Eugster denounced the proposed district as a method of raising money to benefit a select number of businesses that will use a new retail shopping complex on Main between Post and Lincoln.
Eugster also argued that the district would tax the Spokane Transit Authority thousands of dollars per year because of its new downtown center.
And that money, he said, would be used to attract more car traffic downtown, contrary to the STA’s mission of encouraging public transportation.
City staff members, after a year of studying the effect of free parking downtown, are recommending reinstalling the 300 meters removed three years ago.
Instead of providing more space for shoppers, the free spots have mostly been usurped by downtown workers, said Assistant City Manager Bill Pupo.
If approved by the council after a number of public hearings, the district would create three different taxing areas.
Businesses in the central core would pay 22 cents per square foot per year.
Those in the outer zone would pay 7 and 10 cents per square foot depending on the type of business.
The entire district - roughly from Maple Street to Division and from Broadway on the North to the railway viaduct on the south - would be called a Parking and Business Improvement Area.
Property owners and hotels would also be taxed.
More than 1,000 cities in the country have created such self-taxing districts, said Karen Valvano, a consultant for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
That group includes Cowles Publishing Co., a property owner in the proposed district.
The $675,000 raised each year in taxes would pay for marketing and promotion, beautification, parking lot maintenance and improved security, said Valvano.
Businesses that would be exempted include religious, non-profit, arts and charitable groups.
If the city approves the district, the city would also contribute $200,000 per year from parking meter revenue.
That money, said Valvano, would be used to hire a group of “security ambassadors.” Carrying two-way radios on foot or on bicycle, they would help visitors and alert the police when security was needed.
City Councilman Joel Crosby, chairman of the council’s economic development committee, said a resolution stating the “intent” to create the district would be read at the April 24 meeting.
Another critic of the plan, activist John Talbott, said the city should delay considering the resolution until more public comment can be heard.
Talbott opposes the district as an effort to use tax money to bolster the commercial value of downtown businesses.
“I’m tired of seeing my taxes going up and seeing no improvements on my street or in any of the outlying neighborhoods,” he said after the meeting.