Uptown district pursues CIA designation

February 1, 2009
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It may have very well been a mini-stimulus package for the U.S. Postal Service.

Four business associations, their members and nearby neighborhood groups have flooded City Hall with letters encouraging city commissioners to establish a Corridor Improvement Authority for the Uptown District.

“I think Mr. Webster has a new definition of persistence,” said 1st Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski of the effort.

And commissioners are likely to get more than an earful of the sentiments contained in those letters when they host a public hearing Feb. 17 to determine if Uptown meets the criteria to be awarded a Corridor Improvement Authority. If it does, then the business associations can apply for the city’s first Corridor Improvement District through the Uptown CIA.

“We understand that a CID will utilize a tax-increment financing mechanism which will capture a portion of the taxes on commercial properties as those values increase. These funds can then be used to effect various improvements in the district, such as beautification, marketing and infrastructure improvements,” wrote Jaye Van Lenten, president of the Eastown Business Association board of directors, of the benefits a CID would bring to the district.

Similar comments came from Heather Van Dyke-Titus, president of the Wealthy Street Business Alliance, and Rachel Lee, president of the East Hills Business Association board of directors.

Real estate developers Baird Hawkins of Lake Drive Development LLC, Todd Ponstein of Wealthy Street Historical Development LLC and Paul Lee of The Winchester on Wealthy wrote that a CID would be an invaluable tool for the city and would bring vitality and economic prosperity to Uptown.

Atomic Object President Carl Erickson and Beero Partners Managing Partner Mary O’Neill wrote that a CID would give Uptown a chance to leverage additional funding through grants, loans and special assessments that could be used to make additional improvements beyond those that the tax-increment revenue would provide.

Ted Lott, co-chairman of the East Hills Council of Neighbors; Lee Hardy, Eastown Community Association secretary; and Christopher Hammond, president of the Midtown Neighborhood Association board of directors, also sent letters supporting a CID.

So did others, such as Neighborhood Ventures Executive Director Kimberly VanDyk, who also serves on the city’s Economic Development Project Team. Van Dyk has worked closely with the Uptown Forward Team, the group that put together the CIA proposal for the city. Hawkins and Christine Helms-Maletic co-chair the Uptown Forward Team.

Eastown, East Fulton, East Hills and Wealthy Street are the business associations in Uptown, and the district includes the Eastown, East Hills and Midtown neighborhood groups. If Uptown gets a CID, the district would contain one million square feet of space, with commercial space accounting for 738,500 of that total.

State law lets a Corridor Improvement Authority operate in a district much like a downtown development authority does in a Central Business District, meaning it can capture property-tax revenue that comes from higher values for improvements. The goal is to stop the deterioration of property values, revitalize urban commercial districts and encourage historic renovation.

“The proposal satisfies the policy set by the city,” said City Economic Development Director Kara Wood. “We believe other areas will qualify for a Corridor Improvement District, but this is the only one that has applied.”

The policy was adopted in late 2007 and it contains requirements commercial districts have to meet to be granted a CIA. A district must have a revitalization plan in place, be sustainable over time, and be in accordance with the city’s Master Plan. A district must also be able to market itself and show that it can collect revenue from sources other than tax-increment financing.  And a corridor must be in transition or in decline to qualify.

“A lot of time and problem-solving energy have gone into this policy,” said Rosalynn Bliss, 2nd Ward Commissioner.

“I think this is a good policy that has been crafted very well,” said David LaGrand, also a 2nd Ward Commissioner. LaGrand abstained from the vote on the public hearing because he has an ownership interest in two properties that would be in the CID.

Only two of the city’s 20 commercial districts can currently capture property-tax revenue. The Monroe North Business Association has a tax-increment financing authority, while the Heartside Business District is within the DDA boundary.

Commissioners capped the total tax-increment revenue a CID can capture last week to 60 percent, once those revenues go over 75 percent of the assessment value. They also put a cap on inflation-driven property-tax revenue when inflation exceeds 5 percent. The cap was added because of concerns over a possible hyper-inflationary rate popping up in the future.

But state law already limits property-tax increases to the inflation figure from the previous year or to 5 percent, whichever is lower.

Commissioners also banned a CIA from using the city to issue bonds.

“I think we can address bank loans separately,” said Haris Alibasic, acting assistant to the city manager. “I believe this is a very good business investment tool for the corridors.”

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