Sharon Katzman thinks Burns Square looks pretty good. But she thinks better landscaping and improved lighting — and “better cohesion and connection to downtown” — will make it even more of a destination for residents and tourists.
Katzman, owner of IOPTICS Eyewear in Burns Court, is spearheading a preliminary effort to expand the Downtown Improvement District (DID) to include Burns Square. If the plan gains momentum, Burns Square would become a part of the taxing district that now stretches north to south from Second Street to Ringling Boulevard and west to east from Palm Avenue to Goodrich Avenue.
If the expansion were to occur, property owners in Burns Square would be taxed an additional 2 mills to fund maintenance, capital improvements and other area improvements in the historic commercial district south of Main Street. As a result of the new tax, property owners in Burns Square would pay a collective $114,312 a year that would go toward upgrades such as improving a crosswalk on Orange Avenue; adding lush landscaping to the area; or bringing a streetcar stop to the neighborhood — if the city eventually brings a streetcar to Sarasota.
Thus far, Katzman has sent surveys to 10 property owners, of more than 50 total owners in Burns Square, to get initial feedback on where improvements are needed in the area and how people feel about the concept of an improvement district. The City Commission would have to approve the DID expansion before it takes effect.
Several property owners said they did not yet know enough about the tax-district proposal to weigh in, but some speculate it could be a good thing for business.
Leanne Swor, owner of L. Boutique and president of the recently formed Burns Court Neighborhood Association, said she would like to see more details about the financial cost.
“As a property owner, I’d like to know what the tax would add to my tax bill and what the benefits would be,” Swor said.
As far as potential area improvements, such as better lighting and sidewalks and improved landscaping, Swor said it would be a plus for the district.
She’d also like to know whether her fellow property owners support the measure, and she has concerns about timing in a tough economy.
Dan Bailey, a partner at the law firm of Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen, also heard about the possible district expansion but didn’t know the specifics.
“The train hasn’t left the station yet,” Bailey said.
Bailey did say the Downtown Improvement District was a good model and said he could see some benefit of an expanded district that included Burns Square.
As part of the next step, however, Bailey would like to see a cost-benefit analysis.
In addition to creating a funding source for area-specific projects, the expansion would also clear the way for a Burns Square property owner to sit on the Downtown Improvement District board and, thus, have a say in downtown projects.
“I see this as something vital and necessary for us,” Katzman said. “It will not take away from our uniqueness. But, it will enhance the connectivity to the rest of downtown.”