COLUMBIA — Board members of Columbia's Special Business District will be meeting soon with downtown property owners to pitch the idea of forming a community improvement district.
Also in Tuesday's meeting, the Special Business District board unanimously approved officers for 2009.
- Chairwoman Mary Wilkerson, the vice president of marketing at Boone County National Bank
- Vice Chairman Michael Vangel, president of Vangel Associates Inc., a Columbia public relations firm
- Treasurer Skip Walther, an attorney with Walther, Antel, Stamper & Fischer P.C.
If implemented, the development tool, referred to as "a 'super-sized' Special Business District" on the SBD's Web site, could increase the sales tax rate and business license fees within the district.
That added revenue, SBD Executive Director Carrie Gartner said, would be used to increase security, provide better waste management and market the area in a way that could attract more businesses.
"You're going to come to downtown, and it's going to be cleaner; you're going to come down at night, and it's going to be safer," Gartner said.
Before a community improvement district can be formed, it must meet the approval of an independent CID steering committee and SBD board members. Signatures from a majority of property owners in the district would then be required on a per-capita and assessed-value basis, Gartner said. Ultimately, the Columbia City Council would have the final say on whether to form the CID.
Gartner said a community improvement district would replace the Special Business District, which has been in place for roughly three decades.
"You keep adding things and adding things, but then you look up one day and say, 'Wow! Downtown is really continuing to grow,'" she said. " ... Our organization needs to grow to prepare for this."
Borders for the CID would basically span the same boundaries as the current SBD, Gartner said, with the possible inclusion of several properties west of Providence Road and north of Ash Street. Gartner emphasized that discussions of potential boundaries are still in the early stages and that the boundaries are flexible.
Although the plan is in its infancy, previous reports have referenced a potential quarter-percent to half-percent sales tax increase on purchases downtown. Gartner said that the legal limit on increasing the sales tax is 1 percent but that the City Council has typically allowed no more than a half-percent increase in transportation development districts, which are similar tools for financing infrastructure.
The citywide sales tax rate, which applies to businesses downtown, is 7.55 percent. In shopping districts such as the Columbia Mall that are within transportation development districts, the sales tax rate is 8.05 percent.
Gartner said she doesn't think consumers worry about the level of sales tax when choosing where to shop.
"I don't think people are shopping here (now) because of that half-cent," Gartner said. "I think people are flocking here to shop because we have good stuff."
SBD board member John Ott, who owns The Tiger hotel, supports the idea of forming a CID.
"This is existing development that we're trying to make cleaner and safer and sustainable," he said. "Hopefully for those reasons, as long as we are self-taxing ... it's a great plan."
Gartner called the board's actions a "starting point" for "talking to people, and just kind of telling them what's going on."
"This is just gauging potential constituents," she said.
Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig Hopkins said at a Tuesday meeting of the SBD board that she is working with Gartner to study whether baseline service agreements exist in other Missouri cities with CIDs and, if so, how they function.
According to the SBD's Web site, Westport, an entertainment district in Kansas City, levies a similar assessment on bars and restaurants "because the bulk of their resources are directed towards safety and cleanliness issues associated with their customers."
For Gartner, the goal is to get feedback from downtown Columbia property owners before the end of the year and to convene with the city's CID Advisory Committee in January.
For more information on Columbia's Special Business District and plans for a community improvement district, visit www.downtown.org.