New tax on Ann Arbor's Main Street would fund sidewalk-related services
Ann Arbor officials say South Main Street serves as the commercial, dining and entertainment center of downtown. Soon, it could also be at the center of a new taxing district to help pay for special services to businesses.
The Ann Arbor City Council will be asked next week to approve a resolution to begin the initial steps of creating a Business Improvement Zone for the three-block portion of Main Street from William to Huron. Several council members indicated their support for the special assessment district during Monday's work session.
Appearing before the City Council to talk about the initiative were BIZ Director Ellie Serras, Betsy Jackson, a consultant from The Urban Agenda, and Ed Shaffran, president of The Shaffran Companies and owner of several downtown properties within the proposed zone.
Main Street property owners began researching the idea of a BIZ last October. How a BIZ works: a special district is voluntarily established, then governed by property owners within the district. The property owners themselves then decide on the level of assessment and what services it funds.
In the case of Main Street, the BIZ proposal calls for funding an aggressive sidewalk cleanup program to keep snow, litter, debris, handbills and graffiti from accumulating. It also would provide for landscaping and maintenance services, but will not duplicate any city services.
"This will give the area a very consistent and predictable environment," Serras said, adding the services provided will ratchet up the quality of Main Street.
Serras said BIZ districts have proven to help attract and retain business tenants, deliver more customers to businesses and increase property values. For those reasons, the return on investment is there, she said.
The city clerk has received a petition requesting the establishment of the BIZ with signatures from more than 50 percent of the property owners. If the City Council gives consent, a public meeting will be held in the next two months, where property owners within the zone will decide on a Zone Plan and a proposed assessment level.
A public hearing would be held in January, followed by an election in February in which property owners decide whether to establish the BIZ. A minimum of 60 percent of property owners, measured by taxable value, is required for approval. The BIZ assessment would be added to the July tax bill and services would begin.
The BIZ Initiative received an $83,270 grant from the Downtown Development Authority early this year to begin the process. The grant was matched by $25,000 from members of the initiative.
The proposed resolution awaiting council approval states the economic health of the community depends on maintaining the viability of downtown districts, and those districts are threatened by the state's poor economy. A BIZ would help sustain and enhance the area's commercial competitiveness, the resolution states.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.