WATERTOWN — The Watertown Downtown Business Association took initial steps during a meeting Thursday to explore the possible creation of a business improvement district in the city.
A business improvement district would allow entrepreneurs in a designated area to receive betterment services, for an assessed fee, like daily trash pickup, improved snow removal, events, collaborative marketing and branding and beautification projects like hanging flower pots. City Manager Rick Finn first floated the idea during a small business summit in November.
Rod Castillo, president of the association, directed the group to create a committee to spearhead the effort and established a goal of crafting an analysis for a possible district at the end of the first quarter. He also said they will commence an initial outreach effort.
Several questions need to be answered, including district boundaries, how nonprofits, which have different revenue cycles, would be charged, specific benefits to include and how it would affect the association’s operations.
“There are people who are very interested in seeing something happen,” Mr. Castillo said. “We want to make sure we approach this in a way that makes sense for Watertown.”
Business improvement districts, or BIDs, have been around since the 1980s. Several communities have adopted them, including Batavia, Geneva, Canandaigua and Ithaca.
Local entrepreneurs would be responsible for leading the effort to create a BID for Watertown. When drafting district boundaries, Mr. Finn said business can choose not to be included, and the district can be formed around them.
The BID tax rate would be assessed against the property owner, but it could be passed on to tenants. The rate would be included in the city’s state-mandated tax cap calculation and could affect whether the city would have to get a state waiver.
Mr. Finn said the city would compile a list of state regulations governing BIDs and other pertinent information and work with the association as it develops the district.
“This is something the city is in support of, but this is something that has to come from the Downtown Business Association,” Mr. Finn said. “This is an exciting time. You folks, you’re the leaders. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
A BID was proposed for downtown in 1993, but several business owners fought against the proposal, including Bart S. Bonner, who filed a state Supreme Court lawsuit to block the district from forming. A judge ruled against Mr. Bonner, but merchants voted against the district.
Steve Rowell, chief program officer for the Watertown YMCA, said the group should explore alternatives for financing types of benefits a BID could yield if business owners rejected having a district established.
“If there’s no support for that, is it possible to look for other funding opportunities,” he said. “I think we should look at how other communities have accomplished this.”