Expanding the downtown Business Improvement District, in concept, is a good idea. But the city should do so only if property owners buy into the plan and nonprofits opt in to do their part.
As part of negotiations to renew the improvement district contract with the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the city is asking the organization to expand the district’s southern boundary from the railroad viaduct to Fourth Avenue.
With such an expansion, DSP’s cleaning and security teams would patrol that neighborhood, in addition to the city’s core. Anybody who has traveled down Second Avenue or under the viaduct in recent months knows such services are needed sorely throughout much of that neighborhood.
Establishment or expansion of an improvement district typically occurs after approval by property owners representing at least 60% of the assessed value in the identified area. Those owners essentially agree to a tax that goes to the improvement district.
The City Council, however, can vote—and has voted, in other instances—to expand an improvement district without property owner approval. That would be a mistake in this instance. The concerns of property owners should be thoroughly vetted and addressed before such an expansion moves forward.
One challenge south of the viaduct is that a lot of nonprofits operate in that area. Those organizations aren’t required to participate in the improvement district, which makes it more difficult for an expansion to be financially viable.
The city might need to invest more—beyond the funds raised by an expansion—to ensure the effort’s success. It would be unfortunate to see an expansion occur and current cleanup and security services get stretched thin because the DSP doesn’t have enough additional resources to do more. Investing additional funds should be considered an option.
Another, perhaps more obvious, solution is for those nonprofits to opt in to the improvement district and contribute financially to it, like their private, for-profit neighbors. From a practical standpoint, they would benefit from the additional services and support as much as their taxpaying neighbors.
Perhaps more important, however, is what opting in would represent. Many of those nonprofits provide services to the homeless populations that sleep under the viaduct and congregate in front of neighboring businesses. Those services are essential, and we are grateful to the nonprofits that help the most vulnerable among us. But there is an undisputable negative impact on property owners who frequently have to address loitering and littering and sometimes sustain vandalism and other illegal activities. Opting in to an improvement district expansion would be one way for those nonprofits to be better neighbors.
While funding issues must be sorted out and property owners’ concerns must be addressed, efforts to invest more into cleanup and security in the neighborhoods between the railroad tracks and freeway are worth pursuing. Many of the most frequently traveled gateways into downtown Spokane start in that part of town, and right now, visitors aren’t seeing the best we have to offer. Bad first impressions can be lasting ones, and in this case, aren’t a true reflection of what our great city has to offer.
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