A taxing plan used to spruce up downtowns in Seattle, Portland and some 1,000 other cities is the best hope for Spokane’s retail core, business leaders told the City Council on Monday.
“Downtown business people can no longer compete with each other. They must band together and cooperate to promote business,” said City Manager Roger Crum.
However, skeptics said the plan proposed by the Downtown Spokane Partnership would benefit a few big businesses and drive others to the suburbs.
“We will not pay to make Riverpark Square more profitable. We will move out,” said Terry Carlson, owner of Import Bay Co.
Similar to taxing districts used to build sewers or pave roads, the proposed Parking and Business Improvement Area would raise $675,000 by taxing downtown businesses, organizations, buildings and properties.
The money would go toward improvements to make downtown safer, more convenient, attractive and accessible.
The district “is the next logical step in a plan to keep downtown thriving,” said Stacey Cowles, chairman of the downtown business group and publisher of The Spokesman-Review.
Assessments within the district would be no less than $120 a year and no more than $38,000, depending on a number of factors including business size. Businesses in the core, who would receive the most benefit, would pay more than those on the periphery.
The city of Spokane would pay about $200,000 a year toward the district, with most of the money coming from downtown parking meters.
Assistant City Manager Bill Pupo said the Council will hold a separate hearing before it considers reinstating about 300 parking meters to downtown, which is part of the proposal. A Spokesman-Review article reported that parking meters were the subject of Monday’s hearing. That actually won’t be taken up unless the proposed business district is approved.
About 50 people testified in Monday’s three-hour hearing. Many from fringe areas of downtown told the council they would not get enough benefit from the district to justify its cost.
“If the downtown core businesses support this, let them support it themselves with their own taxes rather than forcing small businesses to support it on their already small profit margins,” said Dan Jeremiah, who identified himself as the owner of a small business.
Glen Dow, owner of a beauty school at 309 W. Riverside, said the district would add 11.7 percent to the $10,000 in taxes his business already pays each year.
“In our block, we have seen not one improvement in the aesthetics from our tax dollars since … Expo ‘74,” he said.
Supporters said the benefits of downtown improvements would spread beyond the skywalk system.
Thriving businesses pay more taxes that the city could use on services in all neighborhoods, said Gordon Budke, president of Momentum.
“An attractive, vital downtown is essential to this city and this region,” said Dr. Jon Holloway, who operates a downtown eye clinic.