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Posted on Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 5:36 a.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor property owners OK city's first BIZ tax to fund improvements

By Paula Gardner

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:

• Snow removal and sidewalk cleaning. • Planting in the flower bed along the sidewalks. • 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 Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email.



Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 1:01 p.m.

What the heck? I remember when I made $5.25 an hour working downtown and my first duty of the day was to go shovel the snow in front of the business, or sweep etc. people are so lazy these days.

Val Losse

Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 8:36 p.m.

Do you really believe the property owners will pay the tax? What are people smoking? The tax will be passed to the customer in higher food and parking costs. The owners get to deduct the tax while the customer eats. No wonder I don't go downtown but once or twice a year. I cannot afford it.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 1:13 p.m.

In addition to paying city property taxes, I paid to repair the public sidewalk in front of my home. When my sewer breaks down I will pay to cut into the street, repair the street, the sidewalk and what it takes to fix my yard. All on my dime... err, dollar. What should we continue to siphon off tax dollars for improvements made to for profit, privately owned property when everybody else in town has to pay twice (taxes and actual cost) for the very same improvements to public property adjacent to theirs? Unlike many of average property/home owners, I don't think that there are many downtown property owners who are struggling with their own personal bottom lines. Why should we redistribute money from the public bucket to the betterment of their bottom line? All this is is another kind of DDA tax diversion. I'll be asking City Hall for $20 to buy a flat of annuals to plant in my lawn extension this summer and sending them the bill for the concrete work to the sidewalk.

Milton Waddams

Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 11:04 a.m.

Great idea. Same could be applied for maintenance of neighborhood parks. A neighborhood park should be maintained by that neighborhood. Should they vote not to pay for upkeep then sell the park for residential development.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 10:14 a.m.

" Snow removal and sidewalk cleaning. Planting in the flower bed along the sidewalks. Litter removal." cleaning snow from sidewalks falls on the shoulders of the property owner in front of the sidewalk. Its not a basic service. Same with flowers and litter. I can't on the one hand wish my taxes were lower and on the other hand expect the city to shovel the sidewalk in front of my house and pick up the candy bar wrappers


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 10:03 a.m.

So, this is how the city will combat other basic services that they should be covering. As Public Services Director Sue McCormick tried a few years back with a "street lighting" tax, these type of taxes will surely find their way into residential neighborhoods in the coming years. Hopefully, residents will be asked to vote for any new taxes as these business owners have, and reject them. Funny, if the city can see the need to outsource basic services like clearing snow and trash from the sidewalks, then why can't they make simple determinations to do the same with some city services?, i.e. trash pick up, recycling, golf courses, pools, senior centers....

The Picker

Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 8:16 a.m.

So what are their regular property taxes for?