Northampton BID unveils proposal to reduce boundaries, lower fees
NORTHAMPTON — In a nod to a controversial change in state law governing business improvement districts and grumblings from many downtown property owners, the Northampton BID is rolling out a proposal to reduce its territory, concentrating primarily on Main Street.
The plan under consideration also calls for a new fee structure that would lower the assessment paid by property owners by 20 to 40 percent.
“We have contracted the original giant map into a Main Street focus,” said Charles Bowles, president of the BID’s board of directors. “We want the district to be very focused.”
The BID mailed a map of the new boundaries and other explanatory materials to 335 downtown property owners Thursday. It plans to call for a meeting in early April to discuss the idea. A date for the meeting has not be set.
The plan comes in the wake of the new state law that forces property owners who initially chose not to join the BID four years ago to become members and pay the additional tax after district members pass a renewal vote.
It also coincides with the filing of a federal lawsuit this week against the Northampton BID and the city challenging the state law as unconstitutional.
The proposed new BID would stretch along both sides of Main Street from State Street to the west (Edwards Church and the Academy of Music) to Hawley Street to the east (Spoleto Restaurant). It includes a small portion of Pleasant and King streets, as well as some buildings along various side streets off Main, including Crafts Avenue, Old South, Gothic and Masonic streets.
Many properties that fall within the district’s current boundaries would be left out of this version, including the West Street area and Smith College to the west, sections of Pleasant and King streets, much of Center, State and Masonic streets that aren’t close to Main, and one side of Strong Avenue.
Even though the district would be much smaller, the number of commercial properties that would become BID members would go up to 135 from the current 115. That’s because under the new state law, none of the properties within the district can opt out. When the BID was created four years ago, property owners had a choice whether or not to join.
Some of the country’s most successful BIDs tend to focus on a single main street in their downtowns, and that’s what the Northampton BID would like to do under this new plan, said Executive Director Dan Yacuzzo.
The BID struggles to service many of the outlying areas in its current makeup. Yacuzzo and Bowles said it makes little sense to try and maintain such a large district if the BID can’t meet the needs of all members.
“We can’t provide the extensive physical or maintenance services outside of this (proposed) area,” Yacuzzo said. “But if we concentrate the district ... it will be a much better environment for all of the property owners within that district.”
Yacuzzo said the proposal is a draft and will likely change after the board holds meetings with property owners.
“I want to give everyone the opportunity to discuss this,” he said.
The plan also calls for lower fees. Members currently pay based on a calculation of assessed valuation multiplied by .005. A building assessed at $500,000, for example, faces a fee of $2,500.
The rate for the new fee has yet to be determined, and it could end up being several variations depending on the type of building, Yacuzzo said. But the fee would go down, he said.
The BID’s budget would likely rise marginally under the new scenario, a far cry from the boost BID coffers would see if it renewed under the new state law and forced property owners within the current district to join.
“Our goal is not to increase,” Bowles said. “If we can’t service an area, we don’t want to be there and charge somebody.”
In addition to beautification and maintenance efforts, the BID will continue to sponsor many downtown events as it has for the last four years, such as the holiday lights, First Night, Sidewalk Sales and more.
“It is more than a clean and safe Main Street,” Bowles said. “It’s about being involved in all kinds of events in town.”
Other BID services possible
The BID may also move ahead with several supplemental services including working with homeless advocates, creating an ambassador program to greet visitors and providing a link between downtown property and business owners and police, Yacuzzo said.
The new boundaries would require a new petition and approval by the City Council, similar to the process the BID went through four years ago. That means organizers will need to get 60 percent of the property owners who represent 51 percent of the assessed value of all the proposed district’s land to sign a petition in support of the idea.
The BID changes are the result of weeks worth of meetings between board members and property owners — both members and non-members who chose not to join four years ago.
Yacuzzo said nearly all of the property owners surveyed felt the BID was doing good work, but they sent a clear message: the district is too big and the fees are too high.
“We’ve gotten that message loudly and clearly,” Yacuzzo said.
Bowles acknowledges that the board can’t please everyone, but members hope the changes show that they are listening and addressing concerns so that a majority of owners in the new district will want to support it.
“The adversaries are the ones that never wanted it to start with,” Bowles said. “I don’t know if that will change. I hope it will.”
Yacuzzo said the board has no immediate plans to take a renewal vote under the new state law, but it will do so at some point regardless of whether its plan to redraw the district proves successful.
“These really are separate issues,” he said.