Evansville is moving to create a new district of Downtown businesses and property owners who would pay an added tax rate for improvements within the district.
Taxes paid into the Downtown Economic Improvement District would be managed by a board of ratepayers, not city government. Some possible uses include landscaping, enhanced snow and ice removal, holiday décor, and ambassadors who would assist when numerous guests are Downtown.
The EID could fund some elements of the Evansville Downtown Master Plan, advocates say. That plan called for a thriving Main Street with a "town square" element, as well as enhancements to the Riverfront plaza and other public spaces.
“What this is basically about is a group of property owners raising their hands and saying, 'we want to pay more property taxes for things that are beyond the city’s ability to provide,'” said Joshua Armstrong of the Southwest Indiana Chamber’s Downtown Alliance, which would be replaced by the new model.
Armstrong has spearheaded efforts to create the district. It’s basically a two-step process: at least half of property owners within the designation boundary must sign a petition in agreement; then, the Evansville City Council must approve the district.
The initial term would be for 10 years, with a review at five years.
An annual budget of $625,000 is expected. A tentative breakdown would look like this: $250,000 for economic development, marketing and public space "activation;" $250,000 for making spaces clean, safe and attractive; and $125,000 for management and administration.
For commercial properties, the rate is 21 cents per $100 assessed value, but those on Main Street would pay an additional $7.35 per foot of street frontage. There is a cap of $30 million assessed value.
For residential properties, the annual flat rate is $150 on Main Street and $100 elsewhere within the district.
Armstrong said Main Street stands to benefit the most from projects discussed, and that's why its businesses and residents would pay a bit more. Nonprofit entities within the district would receive a 50-percent discount on the commercial rate.
The district is within these boundaries: Lloyd Expressway to the north, Riverside Drive to the east, Chestnut and Mulberry to the south and Martin Luther King Boulevard and Ninth Street to the west.
Petitions went out June 30 and are due back Sept. 23.
“We think it will attract vibrancy and vitality and help us attract additional private investment,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong has met with more than 150 property owners Downtown and is optimistic the 50-percent threshold will be cleared easily. Similar districts have been popular elsewhere. Fort Wayne recently renewed its EID for Downtown, and Armstrong also pointed to Columbus, Ohio, as a city where a district has sparked new Downtown business recruitment.
River City Mercantile owner Heather Vaught said the district would help her Main Street business.
“I'm real excited about it,” Vaught said. “It's something our Downtown area has needed for a long time. It's the best bang for our buck, to make Downtown look great. Activity Downtown helps draw people into your business.
“With everything going on, I think it will be a really great thing for the businesses and residences here. We know exactly what the money will be used for, and where it will be used. It's not going to be used on the East Side or something. It’s going to be used right here in our neighborhood to make things better.”
Old National Bank Chairman and CEO Bob Jones also is a proponent. He said a similar district has made a positive difference in his native Cleveland.
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said an EID could be a funding resource for large projects such as a Main Street town square or a series of landscaping or decoration projects that collectively make a difference.
He spoke at last week’s Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting in support of creating the district.
“With the resurgence of development Downtown, the EID would give us yet another tool,” Winnecke said. “The city doesn’t have every resource available to provide all the amenities to make Downtown more special. So the implementation of an EID would provide additional resources to put the icing on the cake, if you will.”
Armstrong said the EID is needed to ensure that elements of Evansville's Downtown Master Plan are achievable. The district, he said, could be used to help secure grants.
Armstrong has heard from a few opponents of the EID, but he believes the majority of property owners will support it and City Council will approve it.
"There are some entities and people who feel this isn't for them, and we get that," he said. "It's real simple old-fashioned democracy by petition."