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Downtown business district up for renewal

Harry Weiss

Harry Weiss

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The role of a business improvement district in promoting downtown Grand Junction will be reviewed as efforts proceed to renew the district.

The district imposes an assessment on commercial property downtown to fund advertising, special events and other promotions. 

Business and property owners are encouraged to join in a process of evaluating the district and its mission, said Harry Weiss,  executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. 

“What do you think the BID should be doing?” he asked.

The decision whether or not to renew the district is ultimately up to the Grand Junction City Council. Weiss expects the council to begin deliberating the issue this fall after an operating plan and budget for the district are presented.

The downtown business improvement district was established in 2005 and took effect Jan. 1, 2006. The council approved the district, while an election was required under the Colorado Constitution to approve the assessment. The district  replaced what had been a nonprofit trade association of downtown merchants and provided a more stable source of funding for downtown promotions, Weiss said.

The district is located within the following boundaries: the railroad tracks on the west to Eighth Street on the east and from Ouray Avenue on the north to Ute Avenue on the south.

While the two are governed by the same board of directors, the district and DDA are separate entities with separate sources of funding and missions. The DDA taps what’s called tax increment financing to fund capital improvement projects that maintain and promote a viable business district downtown. A ballot measure approved in in 2011 allows the DDA to continue to issue bonds for a total of up to $65 million over the next 20 years to finance projects.

In creating the business improvement district, the city council added a sunset provision that calls for the district to automatically expire after 10 years unless it’s renewed, Weiss said.

That  means the downtown business improvement district will cease to exist on Jan. 1, 2016 unless the council renews the district, Weiss said.

Should the council opt this fall not to renew the district, that would provide time during 2015 to either push for a different decision or wind down the operation, Weiss said. 

If the district doesn’t continue, neither will the assessment, he said.

While the combined district and DDA board plans to advocate for renewal, the process also offers an opportunity to discuss the mission, programs and effectiveness of the district as well as other efforts downtown, Weiss said.

The district provides a lot of services, Weiss said, in marketing businesses individually and the downtown collectively on web sites and in a business directory as well as staging special events that bring people downtown.

Meanwhile, the district assessment ensures all downtown businesses pay for promotional efforts — businesses along Main Street are assessed at a higher rate — and not just a few that voluntarily do so, he added. “The BID is a pretty good system.”

Moreover, the district and DDA work well together in maintaining and promoting a viable downtown, Weiss added. “The two are very complementary and give us an extra arrow in the quiver to shoot at the downtown revitalization target.”

Still, changes could be needed going forward in how the district and DDA operate and what they do, Weiss said.

One possible change could be more pronounced efforts to recruit businesses and promote economic development downtown, he said.

A study could be conducted to determine what types of businesses are needed downtown to better serve local residents and visitors, he said.

One recruitment effort could focus on the so-called creative industry, including architectural, graphic design and photography businesses.

Other efforts might address how to reconfigure downtown commercial properties for the best use. One option might be to divide properties in half with retail space accessed from streets and office spaces accessed from alleys, he said.

The results of a recent study indicate there’s potential demand for more housing downtown, which would in turn bolster business there, Weiss said.

There’s also a possible role for the DDA in serving as a catalyst for  development in providing an equity stake in commercial or residential projects, he said.

In the meantime, though, efforts will proceed to renew the downtown business improvement district, Weiss said.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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