The chairman of the Downtown Improvement District doesn’t like what he sees on mid-Main Street, from Orange Avenue to Links Avenue — and he’s got a plan to improve it.
Ernie Ritz refers to the dog-bone effect when describing Main Street, meaning there’s a great deal of activity on both ends, but little in between.
“If you’re a merchant in the 1600 block, you might as well hang it up,” he said.
Ritz convinced his fellow board members to back an exploration of expanding the DID, which is a special taxing district that was created in 2008 to fund downtown improvements, such as landscaping, lighting and security.
The tax, which would be a maximum of 2 mills, or $200 on $100,000 worth of property, is only levied on commercial properties roughly from Goodrich Avenue west to Gulfstream Avenue and Second Street south to Ringling Boulevard (see map).
At its April 19 meeting, the DID will discuss expanding its territory east to U.S. 301.
The 95 commercial properties in that additional area have an assessed value of more than $166 million.
Currently, the DID’s properties have an assessed value of about $181 million, and it brought in $362,500 in tax revenue.
The expanded area, as proposed, would create about $330,000 more, which the DID would use to fund improvements throughout the entire district.
Money, said Ritz, is not the impetus for widening the DID’s range.
“I’m not thinking about income,” he said. “I’m thinking about making that middle part on Main a viable area.”
Large office buildings, two gas stations and two dry cleaners dominate that section of Main Street.
In contrast to many of the one- and two-story buildings from Orange Avenue to Five Points that directly front the sidewalks, many of the buildings on mid-Main Street are set far back on their properties, because they have parking lots fronting the roadway.
That creates a somewhat barren appearance, Ritz said.
“We can’t ask (the property owners) to tear down their buildings and move them closer to the street,” he said. “But we can make it look nicer with bulbouts and landscaping.”
Bulbouts, like the ones installed last year at Main Street and Palm Avenue, give the appearance of a narrower street and make it more accommodating for pedestrians by creating shorter road crossings.
John Moran, one of the original architects of the DID, is assembling information on the property owners in the proposed expansion area.
Although the DID now has a track record of improving the area it serves — it funded the recent changes to Selby Five Points Park, as well as installed a high-tech security camera in that area, for example — Moran feels it could be a challenge to get some of the property owners to buy into the DID.
The original district included mostly retailers and restaurants that wanted to see a more attractive area to draw customers.
Office buildings and gas stations may not be as concerned about that.
“Those property owners have to see if there’s a financial benefit for them,” Moran said.
Because 67% of commercial-property owners in the original district supported the creation of the DID,
Moran believes 50% of the owners in the combined areas is attainable.
However, a majority isn’t technically necessary.
The City Commission has the authority to expand the district on its own.
But it’s possible the proposal may not get that far.
Two of the four DID board members, John Simon and Pat Westerhouse, also wanted to explore including the Rosemary District and Burns Square to the north and south or perhaps just one of those areas, instead of only extending the DID’s reach to the east.
“Every time we move up the street, we are increasing costs that may not be offset by the (tax) income,” said Simon.
BY THE NUMBERS
60 — Property owners in proposed expansion
$166 million — The assessed value of the 95 commercial properties in the expanded area
110 — Property owners in current DID
$181 million — 2010 assessed value in current DID