The St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) Board of Directors wants a 10-year extension of the organization in an attempt to further enhance the Circle.
The BID’s goals for the next decade include gathering funds for a parking garage on the Circle, creating public bathrooms, burying power lines, enhancing the landscaping and creating Circle entrance signs for motorists.
The BID is a special taxing district that St. Armands Circle property owners voted to create to help pay for improvements on the Circle. The BID, which imposes a 2-mill tax on nearly 80 properties, expires in 2013.
But the BID doesn’t intend to move forward with the 10-year extension and a $15,000 referendum effort until it can clarify some issues with the city of Sarasota. At its Tuesday meeting, the BID agreed to engage a law firm to begin discussions with the city attorney’s office on some proposed changes to the BID prior to moving forward.
That’s because in May 2009, after ballots for a referendum to extend the district were mailed out, the BID became aware that two St. Armands merchants had challenged the interpretation of the state statue under which the BID was formed. Rappaport said the challenge was an attempt for Circle merchants to gain more representation on the board. The referendum ultimately failed.
At the time, deputy city attorney Mike Connolly concluded the statute wasn’t definitive as to who was eligible to serve on the board.
Currently, the BID consists of a merchant landowner and two landowner investors. Rappaport is worried that if a majority of the three-member board was merchants or merchant landowners, the board could then choose to use the BID monies to fund special merchant events and pay for a BID executive director salary instead of funding capital-improvement projects.
Currently, the BID doesn’t have an executive director and Rappaport said that 100% of the funds collected are poured back into the Circle for capital improvement projects, advertising, enhanced maintenance and minor BID expenses.
Rappaport presented the desired changes for BID board requirements at Tuesday’s BID meeting. The changes mandate a board member must be an owner and taxpayer of property within the district. To avoid conflicts of interest, Rappaport also suggests no two board members can serve if they share ownership on one or more properties within the district.
And to ensure the BID remains a landowners association, Rappaport proposes that there can never be more than one board member who is both a landowner and a merchant within the district.
Without those changes, Rappaport said the BID does not have the support of the Circle landowners for a simple majority vote of district members to approve an extension of the BID.
“If we don’t get a clear-cut interpretation, it’s not going to go through,” Rappaport said.
What created tensions between Circle merchants and landowners in 2009 was Connolly’s interpretation that the Sarasota City Commission could change the requirements of the board members at any time.
“The landowners are wrestling with this bone in their throat that the rug can be pulled out from under them at any time,” Rappaport said.
The board unanimously agreed to move forward with city discussions in an attempt to garner support for the changes and hold a future discussion with the commission.
Rappaport, meanwhile, suggested the BID, the merchants and the Circle residents must all work together with the city to discuss a future Circle parking garage.
Rappaport and St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan said the Circle’s landowners and merchants are working well together right now and agreed that all future discussions regarding the garage should occur at future Circle Association meetings and not at BID meetings until more input from all parties can be received.
In the meantime, the BID agreed the last 10 years of taxing its Circle property owners an extra 2 mills has been beneficial, funding a dozen projects and helping to create more than $2.5 million worth of improvements over the past 10 years (see below).
“It (the BID) could not have worked out better with what we have been able to accomplish so far,” said DID board member Michael Valentino.
Rappaport said the garage and future projects could take the Circle “to the next level,” and Corrigan said that there’s now a waiting list for “A-level” retailers that are waiting for space to open up on a Circle that’s completely leased out. She said the Circle is having its best season since 2007.
Making an impact
The St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) has made the following improvements to St. Armands Circle in the past 10 years:
• New street lighting with outdoor music provisions
• New and repaired sidewalks
• Installation of 122 Bose outdoor speakers for music and emergency public address system
• Funded a city-approved St. Armands Master Plan
• Constructed new neck-out medians and brick-paved crosswalks
• Partnered with the city to provide path lights in center park
• Partnered with the city to obtain an easement for angled parking
• Donated John Ringling statue
• Partnered with the city to provide needed benches and trash containers
• Partnered with the city to remove newspaper racks and replace with new models
• Sponsored a Circle study that was presented to merchants by a planner
• Renovated all four medians with a park-like setting that provided curbs, sidewalks, sitting areas, new lighting and enhanced landscaping
• Participated in workshops to create storm-water improvements to correct Circle street flooding
• Provided financial assistance for the installation of Christmas decorations
• Worked with city staff to amend outdoor dining requirements and create signs and wayfinding signs
• Worked with city officials and downtown merchants to help create the Downtown Improvement District (DID)