Time for community improvement district in Riverside?

Hallmark Partners’ Alex Coley thinks so

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

When Downtown Vision, Inc. was created in 2000 as Jacksonville’s only business improvement district it stemmed from that old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

“There was a realization that the city’s finances were limited and that no one was really taking the responsibility for day-to-day oversight of Downtown. The founders of Downtown Vision felt that if they wanted things done to a higher standard they would have to take responsibility and figure out other ways to find funding,” said Terry Lorince, DVI’s executive director.

That “other way” was a downtown improvement district. According to DVI’s website, “A Downtown Improvement District (DID) is a variation of a Business Improvement District (BID), where commercial property owners…pay a self-assessed, non-ad valorem tax based on property values to fund a formal organization which provides revitalization services and improvements within the district’s boundaries, over and above what the city provides…”
One developer in Riverside and Brooklyn thinks a similar concept might benefit these historic neighborhoods.

“Community improvement districts can galvanize a neighborhood or small district into action and coalesce the people who live and work there,” said Alex Coley,
co-founder of Hallmark Partners, the group behind 220 Riverside and Beacon Riverside. “CIDs set in place certain infrastructure to fund
activities at the grassroots level.”

The community improvement district is another variation of a BID, with the significant difference being that its boundaries include residential and commercial properties. All BIDs must have city council approval and funding may come from public and private sources, including ad valorem taxes or non-ad valorem assessments, donations, in-kind contributions, and federal, state and local grants.

While Coley is leaning toward an increase in ad valorem taxes, Hallmark’s legal team is currently researching CID legislation around the country.
“The underlying element is that residents be actively involved and set the priorities,” Coley said. “The concept is democratic in nature.”
That is vital for Riverside Avondale Preservation Executive Director Carmen Godwin.

“Certainly if there’s going to be a tax increase you have to reach out to the community. So, let’s go to residents first, then to city council. Also, I’d want to know who sets the priorities on how money is spent; residents should have a big say there,” Godwin emphasized.

Those priorities might include anything from crime prevention, parking, and tree canopy issues to extending the Riverwalk. District 14 Councilman Jim Love suggested burying utility lines or improving parts of 5 Points, possibly constructing a roundabout or installing sidewalks along Lomax Street.

“Details of how to raise and spend the money, timeframe and boundaries of the district itself would need to be worked out with residents,” Love said. “It also may be challenging getting city council approval because some council members might be reluctant to approve CID legislation that will effectively take money out of the city’s general fund.”

Some think getting community buy-in will be equally difficult.
“Residential owners are 100 percent opposed to seeing increases in taxes unless they can see demonstrable results” said DVI founding member Mike Harrell. “Especially since RAP has done a great job assisting in Riverside/Avondale marketing and place-making. Residents will look at that and ask, ‘What can a CID do that isn’t already being done?’”

Coley not only believes that CIDs are an ideal structure for RAP’s “amazing, galvanized and enlightened leadership” to play a continuing role in producing significant results, but he also sees CIDs as fulfilling a larger social purpose.

“We have to do our research and then build consensus within the community. But it seems axiomatic. CIDs are about local people making local decisions on what is good for their neighborhood. They fulfill the ideological and spiritual intention upon which this country was
founded.”

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