First Street merchants got their initial look Tuesday, February 9, at how a downtown Business Improvement District would be funded and how the money raised by the district would be spent.
A feasibility study conducted by Civitas Advisors came up with four basic conclusions according to a letter sent to downtown business owners. One of those conclusions, that business owners and not property owners fund the district doesn’t sit well with some business owners in the downtown.
“It’s not equitable,” said Stan Houston, owner of ABC Music on First Street. “They share in the long term sustainability of the downtown.”
Houston did appreciate a different conclusion of the study that if approved the district should be modest in its revenue goals. “The scope of work is extremely reasonable,” said Houston.
A Business Improvement District is a method of funding specific projects by means of a self-assessment. The money raised would fund projects approved by the people paying the assessment.
Examples projects and how much each merchant would pay are part of the packet sent out from City Hall on Monday.
The assessments in the examples differ depending on the type of business being assessed with retail businesses paying the highest amount and service businesses paying the lowest and the assessment for restaurants in the middle.
According to Mario Giluiani, acting Economic Development Manager for Benicia, this is normal. “They (the assessments) are based on the legal requirements of forming a Business Improvement District.
Another conclusion of the study is that only businesses located on First Street and on Military East between East Second and First Street be assessed. This is another legal requirement of a Business Improvement District. The programs funded with the assessments are required to have a direct link to the businesses paying the assessment.
Civitas Advisors thought it would be difficult to establish that link to businesses anywhere else in the city.
At least one downtown business owner believes the whole city should have a stake in the success of the downtown. “I don’t know if it’s fair for business owners on First Street,” said Maryellen Hayes, owner of the Camellia Tea Room and a downtown property owner. “I kind of feel that the improvements ought to be on the back of property owners. It seems to me the whole community should be responsible.”