Get a first look at what a BID might do for downtown Rochester
A draft plan for a downtown Business Improvement District sets out tentative boundaries, a possible budget, and proposed functions, with an eye toward implementation in fall 2024.
The draft represents the biggest milestone to date in what has been a two-year effort to create the district. A majority of property owners and City Council must sign onto the plan for it to move forward.
“We're confident that we have strong support from downtown property owners,” said Joe Stefko, chairman of the Partnership for Downtown Rochester, a public-private entity formed to lead the planning process.
"Like many of the other stakeholder groups that we engaged with over the last year-plus (they) feel that we can get more out of our downtown.”
Business improvements districts, or BIDs, are public-private partnerships. Property owners in a defined area agree to pay additional taxes for services and quality-of-life improvements that the local government is unable or unwilling to provide. Things like special events, sanitation, marketing, beautification, public art, hospitality, and security services.
The draft plan proposes a district bounded roughly by Interstate 490 to the south, Plymouth Avenue to the west and Union Street to the east. The northern boundary would follow the Inner Loop, take in the Amtrak Station, then drop down along North Clinton Avenue to Pleasant Street and over to East Main Street.
Notably left out is Cascade District, most of the Grove Place neighborhood, and the Alexander Street corridor. While taking in the Strong National Museum of Play, the district would stay clear of Monroe Avenue, except for the Sherwin Williams building.
The draft proposes a $2.2 million budget, fully funded through special assessments on property owners. Of that, $760,000 would go to the city to maintain existing downtown services and related city staff positions.
A proposed budget breaks down as follows:
Marketing and events ($320,000) — Promising more than 100 events per year, the proposal incorporates existing activities and an unspecified range of new ones. There would be an emphasis on off-peak times, including a winter marketing and events campaign. Small businesses, nonprofits and arts groups would be included.
Support small business and “promote livability” ($320,000) Help connect businesses to resources, identify common issues, gather and analyze market data, and help recruit merchants and investors to the Center City. The BID also would encourage greater access to parks and open spaces, transit and affordable housing, and space for cultural amenities. It would also work to ensure public input on downtown projects.
Hospitality ambassadors ($285,000) Employ six people to work in teams, including on weekends. They would not intervene in situations but call for “appropriate support based on the situation observed.” Their main tasks would be to touch base with businesses and property managers, document needed repairs in public spaces, promote downtown amenities and activities, and “act as a conduit to resources and services for people in need.”
Maintenance/beautification ($280,000) A team of four people would work eight hours a day, five days a week, on enhanced cleaning and litter pickup, as well as additional plantings and street banners.
Social services supplement ($110,000) The BID would direct 7% of its budget to support two social service agencies serving downtown, providing shelter and case management for people in need.
The remaining $110,000 would go to management. The BID would be evaluated annually on key performance indicators. A 20-person board of directors would include residents, non-owner tenants, and artist, nonprofit leader, merchant, landlord and hospitality representatives.
“The community must play a pivotal role in the revitalization of downtown Rochester,” City Council President Miguel Meléndez said in a statement. “For me, broad-based citizen engagement will be of the upmost importance in any process to consider a Business Improvement District (BID) downtown."
Business Improvement Districts began popping up in the United States in the mid-1970s and one in New York City has been credited with helping transform Times Square into a tourist destination. Today there are more than 1,200 BIDs nationwide.
Rochester created one in High Falls in 2005 without controversy. But a muddled attempt at organizing a downtown BID collapsed a decade ago. And this latest effort has met with pushback, with critics fearing private interests will control the Center City and decrease affordability
"We unequivocally oppose any policy that prioritizes private interests over public welfare and community development," read a statement from a group opposed to a BID, calling themselves No BID Roc.
The statement called the BID "a solution in search of a problem," continuing: "While we have not had time to fully review the proposed district plan yet, BIDs by definition take voting power and voice away from residents and hand it to the largest property owners."
According to the draft plan, the board overseeing a BID would have to include two residents, two non-owner tenants, a local artist, a nonprofit leader, and a small business owner. Most of the 20-member board would represent property owners within the district boundary. The city’s mayor and a member of City Council also will have seats.
The board would need to produce an annual report covering finances and performance, and present that report at a public meeting. City Council would vote each year to approve the district's budget and services.
At a Tuesday news conference where officials rolled out the draft plan, the focus seemed less on the details though, and more on the sales pitch. This is a chance to reset the conversation — now with some substance to discuss — and push a clear message aimed at blunting the criticisms.
"It's about support, never control," said Galin Brooks, who leads the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., and is helping spearhead the BID discussions
The next step is gathering public input on the draft plan.
"And I emphasize draft," Mayor Malik Evans said. "This gives individuals the opportunity to give input and have an impact, to make this plan even better. ... The conversation is overdue."
Overdue, he argued, because so many other cities already have a BID — including nearby Canandaigua, Buffalo, Syracuse and Batavia.
City Council voted to proceed with planning for a BID in August 2022. Officials anticipated releasing the the draft plan this past summer, and had planned on implementing it in July 2024. The revised timetable has City Council holding public hearings and voting on whether to approve the district in July 2024.
Getting the added fees into property tax bills is key.
Residential properties with less than four units and religious uses would be excluded. All others would pay a special assessment of ($0.25/100) x total assessed value.
Using that formula, the Dunkin’ Donuts at State and Church streets would pay $315 on its $126,000 property. Park Square, the apartment complex that towers over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Park at Manhattan Square would pay $20,680 on its $8.3 million property.
Governments and universities would pay the assessment through an inter-agency agreement, according to the draft.