Some city officials are skeptical of a plan to cede control of landscape maintenance — and associated funding — to the St. Armands Business Improvement District.
This spring, city staff and St. Armands Circle leaders reached an agreement to transfer responsibility for maintaining the landscaping in medians throughout the area to the St. Armands Business Improvement District.
All the deal needed was City Commission approval. More than three months later, it remains unclear whether that approval will ever come.
On Tuesday, the BID discussed the uncertainty surrounding the future of median landscaping in the Circle. St. Armands property owners and merchants have complained that the city has failed to properly maintain the landscaping after the BID helped fund a $450,000 median improvement project in 2012.
Under the agreement outlined with city staff, the city would give the BID the money it spends maintaining medians in the Circle — $72,000 a year. The BID would use that funding to get a dedicated maintenance contractor. Staff also agreed to an $80,000 one-time investment to restore the landscaping to its original state.
The City Commission, however, questioned the necessity of the changes. During a budget hearing in July, Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie singled out the landscaping proposal as an idea to which she objected. The parks department indicated a belief it could now satisfactorily maintain the medians, operating with a bigger budget than it had five years earlier.
“I think those funds could be better used in-house for city employees,” Eddie said.
The BID had hoped to begin the process of searching for a contractor by now. Instead, it is waiting to see how the budget shapes up in September.
“I’d hate for us to spend time on it if this is a dead issue,” BID Chairman Gavin Meshad said.
Marty Rappaport, the former BID chairman who worked with city staff on the proposed landscaping agreement, acknowledged the city’s maintenance had recently improved. Still, he said, that didn’t erase the past service.
“Our problem was that they’ve never done a good job on it, and they only started doing a good job when we requested they give it to the BID,” Rappaport said.
The focus on median landscaping is tied to a larger conversation among St. Armands leaders about improving the look of the Circle, with businesses and landlords striving to promote an upscale image. Regardless of the fate of the maintenance agreement, the BID is focused on ensuring the landscaping is as good as possible.
“There was no great desire from us to be in charge of taking care of maintenance, but it’s very important to the image of St. Armands,” Rappaport said.