Aspen businesses ponder new tax
Marketing dollars, funds for physical improvements to downtown Aspen, seed money for new special events or even financing a parking garage could come from the formation of a Business Improvement District, according to a consultant who has helped form BIDs around Colorado and the country.Brad Segal, with the Denver firm of Progressive Urban Management Associates, Inc., on Thursday walked a handful of representatives from Aspen’s business community and city government through the process of forming a BID and what the special taxing district can accomplish.There are about 15 BIDs in Colorado, according to Segal, who is currently helping Grand Junction’s business core establish one to fund marketing and promotion.Property owners and tenants within a Business Improvement District vote to tax themselves, either through a property tax or special assessment, to fund any of a number of needs that enhance the district, according to Segal. Every commercial property within the district is taxed if the BID prevails in the election.Cherry Creek North in Denver, a 26-block, upscale shopping district, raises nearly $1.5 million a year through a BID property tax and spends about half of it on marketing, he said. Manitou Springs has a five-block BID that raises $57,000 annually for maintenance.”We’ve also been to many communities where we’ve said, it’s not right,” Segal said. Whether it’s right for Aspen or not remains to be seen. Among the few business people attending yesterday’s session at City Hall, some were enthusiastic and others were less so.”To me, it’s almost a no-brainer. I don’t see a downside to it,” said Mark Goodman, managing partner of Mark Richards Fine Outerwear. A 25-cent assessment per square foot of commercial space at his 1,000-square-foot store would mean $250 annually. “It’s a pittance,” he said. But, it would be pooled with funds from every commercial space within the district, the boundaries of which would have to be determined.There are about 1.4 million square feet of commercial space in the city, according to Chris Bendon, head city planner. An assessment of 25 cents per square foot would generate $350,000 annually if every commercial building was within the district.Retailers and restaurant operators who rent space will be sensitive to any increased cost, whether it’s an assessment or a property tax that’s passed onto them by the landlords, warned Ernie Fyrwald, a former longtime local retailer who’s now a real estate broker.”If you can go to a tenant and say, it’s going to cost you $250 a year,’ that’s fairly palatable,” he said.A petition would have to be signed by the majority of owners of real and personal commercial property within the proposed BID in order to propose the district to the City Council. The details of the BID boundaries, what it would fund and how properties are taxed must be worked out before the council is asked to establish the BID through adoption of an ordinance. Then, a November election is held among property owners and tenants within the district.Segal is advising for a vote in November 2006 at the earliest, with the first funds being collected in January 2007.”What do you guys think? Is this something we should pursue aggressively?” asked Lisa Baker, the downtown catalyst who acts as a liaison between businesses and the city.Both Bill Dinsmoor, owner of the Main Street Bakery & Cafe, and Limelite Lodge owner Dale Paas were quick to say “yes.”Others voiced skepticism, some questioned how BID revenues would be spent.”We have a couple of areas where we could use some investment. One would be marketing,” Baker said. “Another thing that comes up constantly is the parking situation.”Revenues from a BID property tax could be used to borrow money and build public parking – under the Limelite, which is planning a redevelopment, for example, she said.”Aside from that, there’s managing our parking. Could our BID do a better job than our parking department? I don’t know,” Baker said.”I’m more convinced, if they’re tackling the right goal. I’m not sure marketing is the right goal,” said David Fleisher, owner of Pitkin County Dry Goods, suggesting downtown improvements are a higher priority.But the ability to augment the city’s meager $400,000 annual marketing budget is enticing to Rick Jones, chairman of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.”It’s really the marketing funds that interest me, and having business interests vote on a business issue,” he said. “Part of the attraction is, it’s our money and we decide how it’s used.”The next step, Baker said, may be a presentation of some sort that pulls in more of the business community, possibly in June.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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