The southwest portion of downtown Spokane could see graffiti cleaners, hanging baskets and increased security presence if property and business owners move forward with a plan to join the city’s Business Improvement District.
The potential expansion could add more than 20 blocks – from Maple to Lincoln streets and the railroad tracks to Interstate 90 – to the self-taxing district, which currently spans 80 blocks of the downtown area. The district provides cleaning, security and marketing services with funding from 850 business and 350 property owners who make yearly assessment payments.
Tom Wilson, owner of Tab Properties, chairs a committee of business and property owners considering whether to ask the district to expand its boundaries to include them. He said urban growth has led to greater demand for the district’s services in the southwest zone. Property and business owners in the area first considered joining the district in 2008 but struggled to work out a finance mechanism, he said.
“The BID’s performance has been much more visible to people,” he said. “I think people have seen how well it works now in another part of the city.”
The section of downtown Spokane between Maple and Lincoln streets, and from the railroad tracks to Interstate 90, could be added to the Business Improvement District. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Marshall Canwell used to operate his business within the district, in the Rookery Building. The president of Copy-Rite Printing said he would like to see the district grow to include his current location on Second Avenue.
“They kind of policed the streets and kept track of the little punks on the sidewalk,” Canwell said. “They promoted downtown businesses to the best of their ability.”
Security is also of concern to others in the southwest zone, including Tom Black, owner of Serenity Insurance.
“We’ve got a lot of homeless people around here,” he said. “I would be in favor of something like this for our employees’ safety.”
Like other business owners in the area, he said his support depends on what it would cost him to be included within the district.
Wilson said the latest cost estimate for bringing the district’s services to the area is $120,000 a year, which would be divvied up among property and business owners using a formula that considers assessed property value and square footage. Some pay a yearly rate of about $30,000 while others pay the minimum $90.
The expansion area would require a significant amount of work to clean up, said Marla Nunberg, vice president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, which oversees the district.
“You can see a real difference when you go from north of the tracks to south of the tracks with graffiti alone,” she said.
Zones on the outskirts of the district typically pay a smaller rate than the core area, and nonprofits are exempt. But in the case of the southwest expansion, property and business owners may not get a reduced rate because of the high cost needed to get the area looking as clean as the rest of downtown, Nunberg said.
“We just want to make sure we aren’t taking away current services from the current BID,” she said.
Meanwhile, some businesses on the outskirts of the district want out.
Everett Coulter, one of the founders of Milford’s Fish House, told the Spokane City Council in early December that the restaurant pays $800 and property owners pay $200 a year but receive no BID services in return. He said the restaurant, located north of the Spokane River on Monroe Street, is not a part of downtown.
“We sweep our own sidewalks, we take care of our own plantings, we’re not that far from the Police Department for safety, we’ve never called for any assistance,” he said.
The City Council has the final say over changes to the district.
To be considered, backers in the southwest zone must demonstrate enough support exists among businesses and property owners who would foot the bill. The district wants to see commitments representing at least 60 percent of the rates that would be charged before moving forward.
Nunberg said the city may need to kick in additional money to cover cleaning and safety services. It currently contributes $100,000 a year.
Councilman Steve Salvatori, who serves on the district’s governing board, said he believes a request to expand the district would be approved. He said he would be willing to increase the city’s contract by the same percentage the district’s footprint expands.
Greater investment in the southwest zone could help the area’s car dealerships, he said.
“Auto sales are a huge sales tax generator for the city,” Salvatori said. “We would want to continue to nurture and help them thrive so we don’t have people leaving the city to buy cars.”
Wilson said one-third of the cars sold in Spokane are purchased by people who live outside the city. The Downtown Spokane Partnership’s marketing efforts, in addition to sprucing up what he calls the “gateway streets” – Maple and Lincoln – could go a long way toward attracting more people to buy cars in the city, he said.
Wilson said the expansion will be further discussed at a meeting Jan. 7. At that point, he hopes to let property and business owners know what rates they would pay so they can decide if they want to move forward.