The Downtown Improvement District continues to ponder the expansion of its boundaries while eyeing future projects such as street improvements, circulator vehicles and parking subsidization.
Last year, the DID funded a $1.9 million improvement project along Main Street from Gulfstream Avenue to Goodrich Avenue. The improvements were part of a larger Main Street master plan, extending to U.S. 301, which the group developed beginning in 2010. The proposed improvements remaining in the master plan include brick intersections, additional landscaping and new parallel parking spaces.
Although that eastern segment of Main Street sits outside of the DID’s boundaries, Chairman Ernie Ritz called for the group to improve the area at a meeting Tuesday.
“We need to complete what we started on Main Street,” Ritz said.
Ritz said he’s gotten feedback from people regarding the noticeable difference between the segment of Main Street that the group improved and the eastern portion it did not. Because DID members approved the initial improvement efforts, he felt they owed it to neighboring merchants to finish the work. He said the group should also solicit input to reconsider adjusting the design plans, potentially using some funds to improve more heavily used portions of Ringling Boulevard.
To pay for the project, the group would have to expand its boundaries. The DID, which generates revenue by imposing a 2-mill tax on commercial property owners within the district, could generate roughly $282,000 in additional funds by expanding to U.S. 301, based on 2013 property values.
Other DID members, though open to the idea of expansion, were less eager to commit additional funds to streetscape improvement projects. To pay for the initial Main Street improvements, the group took out a 20-year bond that tied up much of its revenues going forward, leaving it unable to tackle larger projects. If the DID were to expand, several members said it should keep its resources more liquid.
“If we expanded the DID and did things within our means, I'm more than happy,” DID member Ron Soto said. “If we’re floating a bond again, we'll be right back where we are now.”
DID member Tom Mannausa said there was still unfinished business within the current boundaries of the district. He said the group should focus on things such as improving the sidewalks between Five Points and Orange Avenue, which was also left out of the initial improvements.
“I don't think we're done here yet,” Mannausa said.
The group agreed to continue its discussion at the next meeting. The board will also discuss other larger expansions and projects going forward.
DID Operations Manager John Moran said expanding the DID further, to adopt the same boundaries of the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, would bring in approximately $1.3 million in additional annual revenues. Moran said a larger expansion would allow the group to consider funding a pet project: a downtown circulator vehicle and an exterior transit option, which would link downtown to attractions such as the beaches and St. Armands Circle.
City Manager Tom Barwin spoke to the DID Tuesday regarding paid parking downtown. As the city works on developing a parking strategic plan, the DID has come out against the near-term reimplementation of paid parking downtown, fearing a loss of business. Barwin said that, with the State Street Garage in development, the cost to manage the city’s parking system next year is projected at $750,000.
Barwin suggested parking management expenses could be incorporated into the cost of running a business in the area. By expanding the DID to the boundaries of the CRA, Barwin suggested some of the additional revenue could go to the city to keep parking free for customers.
Barwin said the downtown area benefits from access to on-street spaces, as well as three city parking garages. If the DID believes free parking is integral to the success of downtown, he said the expansion could lead to an option that satisfied all sides.
“Those parking costs could be covered easily by the DID,” Barwin said.
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