Downtown Ann Arbor property owners OK city's first BIZ tax to fund improvements
How often can you find overwhelming support for a tax increase in Ann Arbor?
The obvious answer is: Not often.
But that’s what happened after the recent vote for the city’s first Business Improvement Zone, when property owners along three blocks of South Main Street chose to tax themselves to fund specific improvements.
About 57 percent of eligible property owners voted - and it passed with 95.9 percent of them in favor of it.
“It’s really pretty amazing that we got that kind of turnout,” said Ellie Serras, BIZ director.
The vote, which took place in February, originated last fall when property owners initiated the process with city officials. It was certified by the Ann Arbor clerk’s office on March 3.
Now organizers are moving forward to deliver their vision for downtown, from William to Huron along both sides of South Main.
The mission, as it starts, is fairly simple, Serras said: Using a modest budget generated by the tax on the property owners, estimated at about $118,000 this year, BIZ will hire out key services:
â€¢ Snow removal and sidewalk cleaning. â€¢ Planting in the flower bed along the sidewalks. â€¢ Litter removal.
The steps may seem minor.
But in a commercial area like downtown, which represents the entire face of Ann Arbor to many visitors, ensuring a uniform and aggressive maintenance efforts will go a long ways to building business and reputation.
“Property owners have taken it upon themselves to improve their neighborhood and take more control over the environment to make it more predictable and consistent for customers, residents and visitors,” Serras said.
Today, it’s up to individual property owners - and in some cases, their tenants - to take care of those things.
But the performance can be erratic. And certain things, like responsibility for the crosswalks, just fall to the person willing to take it on.
Customers notice it, too, Serras said. They’ll complain if they notice trash, difficulty navigating in the snow or uncleared sidewalks.
“Retailers are the ones who hear it,” she said. “ We want to have people shop and dine and go to the bank and get their hair done in February just as easily as they do in June.”
Setting up the district took both time and financing: the Downtown Development Authority gave the group $83,270 toward the cause, and members contributed another $25,000.
Now Serras said, the DDA will hold onto the information as a blueprint for other districts that may want to follow the lead of these three blocks.
Property owners will receive a bill for their share with their summer tax statement, Serras said.
And in the meantime, the BIZ board will be finalizing contracts with service providers for the snow removal, landscaping and litter removal.
Many other communities in the U.S. have a BIZ, Serras said, and as business owners learned about its potential, they gradually embraced it.
By the time of the vote, Serra said, most saw “that it’s a long-term investment for downtown.”
Paula Gardner is Business Director for AnnArbor.com. Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email.