Downtown district seeks to boost marketing budget

Spending plan for fiscal 2010 also accommodates plans for creating special taxing district.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:47 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 19, 2009

COLUMBIA — The Special Business District wants to increase its marketing budget by 1,000 percent over this fiscal year to promote business and economic development downtown.

Its proposed budget, which was the subject of a public hearing at Monday night's meeting of the Columbia City Council, also would accommodate plans to change the Special Business District to a community improvement district to "create a vibrant 24-hour downtown," said Mary Wilkerson, chairwoman of the district's board of directors. The budget for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1, calls for spending $25,000 to cover legal expenses for the change.  

The district's budget for this fiscal year included only $1,000 for marketing, but the fiscal 2010 budget seeks $11,000. The marketing money would be used for radio, television and online advertising, and for mailings and sales promotions. In addition the money will be used for economic development marketing, Wilkerson said.

The purpose of economic development marketing is to make it easy for businesses to locate in the Special Business District.

"We are often the very first phone call," Wilkerson said, referring to those who inquire about locating downtown. District staff often act as a liaison. A database is used to keep track of relevant information such as open space or available rentals.  

The change to a community improvement district also would further the marketing efforts to promote downtown. Currently, just less than 78 percent of the Special Business District's income comes from property taxes. The state's Hancock Amendment makes it virtually impossible to increase revenue from property taxes, said Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Special Business District. And without a community improvement district, it would be impossible to raise sales tax downtown without raising it citywide. 

This shift to a community improvement district will happen in two phases, Wilkerson said. The first phase would be to circulate a petition among downtown property owners to authorize a vote on whether to create the district; the second would be to vote on the sales tax, which district officials have previously said would probably be a half-cent on the dollar. A draft petition is expected within the next two months.

The $25,000 in legal expenses proposed in the budget are to cover the cost of the  petition. The legal requirements for the petition are complex and must be right, Gartner said. 

The extra money raised from the sales tax would be used to increase marketing efforts even further. Assuming the community improvement district is created and the sales tax passes, the district would boost its spending on marketing to between $20,000 and $50,000.

Overall, the proposed budget for fiscal 2010 shows a $50,784 decrease from this year, down to $231,884 from $282,669. Most of the decrease is due to one-time expenses for a market analysis and a security camera pilot project that are not being renewed.

The district budget is subject to final approval by the City Council, which is scheduled to approve the overall budget for the city at its Sept. 21 meeting.

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John M. Nowell, III August 19, 2009 | 9:37 a.m.

I'm all for promoting downtown Columbia. One of the problems as I see it is street parking. I feel that the customer is being treated as a second class citizen, by not offering them the closest parking available.

I would imagine that the UMC students use South Ninth Street while on campus, but I have noticed several business managers/owners parking in front of their shops all day long. I've even overheard employees saying they will be right back, as they have to feed the parking meter. The city council should reconsider enforcing the meters after 6:00 p.m. as it puts all the burdon on the shops open during the day and gives the ones open later at night an advantage of free parking, not to mention encouraging students to hit the bars, and just leave their cars downtown, plus the increased litter problem. It's just as hard to find street parking at 10:00 p.m. as it is at 10:00 a.m..

With the four under utilized parking garages and soon to be fifth, I would encourage the downtown merchants and their employees to make it a priority to park off street. In this advanced day of electronics, working with the city of Columbia, there could be a simple computer based program much like a hotel uses for temporary room cards so downtown employees would have a pass card for the parking garages.

Each person would have a coded I.D. number, and indexed to the business, and the business would be billed monthly. The employees could either have their parking fees deducted from their pay (they are paying out of pocket now to use the meters), or if they choose, the business could make it part of their compensation.

With the new police presence, the chief could authorize the downtown patrol to issue parking tickets as needed along with the meter maids to help enforce expired meters. If an employer was serious about having their employees use the garages, they could match up their monthly billing with the employee's work schedules to see if they are actually parking in the garages.

The other problem as I see it is that there is an abundance of legal offices, tatoo parlors, coffee houses, bars and restaurants downtown. There are some great specialized shops, but not much in the way of businesses that sell things one would need for daily living. Downtown Columbia has become an occational destination, rather than an area to be shopped daily or weekly. This is a problem for the P & Z and city council to make the area more business friendly.

The purpose of advertizing is to get the customer in the front door. It's up to the businesses or area to give them reasons to return. All the marketing in the world will have little effect until basic business principals are established.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 19, 2009 | 11:53 a.m.

John M. Nowell, III great post.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand August 19, 2009 | 1:01 p.m.

In any large city -- Columbia included -- it's unrealistic to expect to be able to park in front of your destination some of the time, let alone all of the time. This is not Fulton or Mexico. There are parking garages all over downtown Columbia, and it's no big deal to park in one of them and then walk a few blocks to your destination.

Even if all of the employees parked in garages -- and I agree that they should -- it still would not free up enough spaces that everyone can park in front of their destination.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 19, 2009 | 2:30 p.m.

Hey here is an idea: Why don't they park their cars in the farthest parking garage from their down town destination and ride a bike to where they are going.

Ya that is the ticket by golly gee wilickers.

(Report Comment)

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