Watertown’s Public Square sits quiet and peaceful on Christmas morning in 2019. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Organizers have started trying to get property owners to sign a petition to support the proposed business improvement district in the city.

The Watertown Downtown Business Association needs to convince at least 51% of the 107 downtown property owners to support the business improvement district, or BID.

Despite requiring just over half, DBA president Joseph A. Wessner hopes to get support from 75% of the property owners by the time the petition drive is completed this month. He’s been meeting with property owners to discuss what BIDs have to offer.

If it gets the necessary support from property owners, the City Council would still need to approve establishing it. The DBA intends to present the plan to the City Council in March.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero said she hasn’t spoken to any property owner who opposes the plan.

“If property owners want it, I’ll support it as well,” she said.

The BID would have an annual budget of $194,000, funded by its members through a special assessment billed to property owners.

That works out to $2.62 per $1,000 of the assessed value with a cap of $5,000 per property. Residential properties up to three units per building are exempt from the levy. But the assessed charge is tax deductible, Mr. Wessner said.

While the DBA has solely relied on volunteer efforts, a full-time executive director would be hired to run the BID. The boundaries of the district would be made up of Public Square and its surrounding area.

The BID would collaborate on marketing and beautification programs to promote the BID and its businesses, be responsible for cleanup and snow removal, provide security, add more downtown events, work on economic development, coordinate and partner with other downtown groups, as well as make other improvements.

The organization also will take on such issues as making the district more pedestrian friendly, improving its ambiance and solving lighting issues in parts of downtown, all of which have been the subject of complaints for years, Mr. Wessner said.

The BID would spruce up downtown by placing planters, doing landscaping and enhancing signage, something the Watertown Local Development Corp. and other groups have been unable to do. Part-time employees would do the work.

The DBA now hosts about 18 events during good weather. Mr. Wessner thinks that number could drastically be increased to 30 events a year, including during winter weather and in other parts of the downtown that aren’t represented now.

The group would help with economic development by working on attracting new businesses to downtown and assist with finding grants and other funding that are available.

That help would continue after they move into the district, he said.

Mr. Wessner said there are dark spots near the State Street parking and near the Knowlton Technologies lot that need to be corrected. The organization would focus on making it safer for pedestrians in crosswalks.

It’s a good time to put the BID into place, so it could help downtown during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and before the local economy bounces back afterward, he said.

“It’s a good time to do it,” he said.

Business improvement districts have been around since the 1980s. New York state is home to 130 districts in Batavia, Geneva, Canandaigua, Ithaca and other areas.

A BID was proposed for downtown in 1993, but several business owners voted against it and quashed it.

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