A beautiful downtown area is in everybody's interest, especially the businesses located there. (Wayne E. Smith / The Detroit News)
For the past eight years, downtown Detroit has been kept clean thanks to contributions from a handful of donors who paid to have litter picked up, parks spruced and flowers planted. The amount of beautifying done each year depended on how much money was raised.
A more reliable funding source is needed. The Downtown Detroit Partnership, which has been doing the work, has come up with a sensible plan to have the businesses that benefit from the clean-up efforts fund the work.
The DDP is proposing a Business Improvement Zone that would levy a fee on businesses in the central city to both expand the current cleanup initiative and make it more consistent.
The beauty of the proposal is that businesses will decide for themselves whether it’s worth their investment. An election will be held in the next several weeks, and if 60 percent of those affected support the plan, the Business Improvement Zone will be adopted.
The BIZ would serve as a funding mechanism for the partnership, which began operations just before Super Bowl XL, when Detroit and its local businesses wanted to put the best and cleanest face on for out of town visitors.
Currently, the non-profit organization supervises the cleaning of 39 miles of sidewalk, including the removal of litter and graffiti, as well as power washing and sweeping the concrete. Its work also includes landscape maintenance and other beautification efforts.
Since 2006, the DDP has been financed by $16.5 million in donations made by 21 corporations and organizations. Its public partners include the city of Detroit, Wayne County and the state.
The small group of donors are looking for more help, and the DDP wants to broaden its efforts and obtain a more permanent revenue stream. That’s why the improvement zone is being proposed.
The BIZ would include 253 property owners who would pay an average of 10 cents per square foot per year. The fee would be added to property tax bills and collected by the city.
Basically, the larger the building and the higher the assessed value of a property, the more a property owner would be charged. Larger owners would also have a greater say in the balloting.
“This is a tool that has been very successful in downtowns across the country and we think it will really help continue the terrific momentum that has been created in downtown Detroit,” says Eric Wilson, planning and development manager for the DDP.
Wilson says to bring the BIZ proposal to a vote, petitions with signatures from 30 percent of the property owners are needed. After a public hearing, Detroit City Council would be asked to authorize a special mail election of property owners.
To establish the BIZ, owners whose property equals at least 60 percent of the total amount in the area must vote “yes.” Balloting would have to be completed within 49 days of the public hearing. There could be a vote by late March or early April, Wilson says.
While some public entities are involved, the BIZ itself would be solely financed by the private special assessment, with no use of tax dollars.
Downtown’s ongoing revival must be supported by clean streets and an attractive environment. The Business Improvement Zone will help make that happen.