Business Improvement District for Downtown Covington Supported by Commission
The effort to create a business improvement district (BID) in Downtown Covington was endorsed Tuesday night by the city commission.
"The city can't do it all," said Pat Frew, executive director of the Covington Business Council and the Urban Partnership which is spearheading the BID effort. "This is an opportunity to create a local economic development tool to help us compete with Ohio, and all the dollars stay local."
Those dollars would be generated by an assessment on commercial properties in the BID zone, the area north of Twelfth Street/Martin Luther King Boulevard to the river, and then east and west streets like Johnson and Greenup. In order for the BID to be established, 51% of commercial property owners in the zone have to agree to the assessment which varies based on property value, and that 51% must represent more than half of the cumulative property value in the zone.
On Tuesday, Frew said he has support of 38% of property owners and is still working toward a majority. He can add support from the Covington City Commission which passed a resolution in support of the BID. Mayor Sherry Carran and Commissioners Chuck Eilerman and Steve Frank voted in favor while Commissioner Mildred Rains was opposed. Commissioner Michelle Williams abstained saying that she wanted more information.
Once a majority is obtained, the city commission would enact local legislation to enact the BID.
BIDs have proven to be successful across the country. Nearby, Downtown Cincinnati, Inc has spearheaded millions of dollars worth of redevelopment in that city. A similar organization has brought about progress in Louisville. In a time where local governments are strapped for cash and struggling to pay for basic needs, a BID could fill the gap in areas such as streetscape maintenance, cleanliness and safety, and promotions.
"There have been pockets of development over the past ten years," said Brent Cooper, owner of Downtown Covington business C-Forward, "but I feel like Covington has taken baby steps toward improvement and in the past year we started to run." Cooper is an involved supporter of the BID. "If you look at the quality of the people involved I think you'll see this is a strong list. Let's pursue this opportunity. I think it's a great one."
Organizers of the proposed BID argue that the city is in need of an outside private organization to provide and manage complimentary services designed to keep Downtown businesses healthy and competitive. The BID and its staff would focus on litter and graffiti removal, commercial real estate education, monthly meetings to discuss Downtown issues, promotional efforts to lure shoppers and diners Downtown, and other enhancements such as planters and light pole banners.
The proposal has been met with support and opposition. Rick Wessels, whose company owns the massive Gateway Center office building, has filed a lawsuit to stop the BID.
But in a city like Covington that has struggled for more than two decades to gain momentum in its Downtown, a BID is an attractive addition according to the firm that created the Center City Action Plan which aims to boost revitalization. That report, from Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates, recommended support for the BID.
"This has been a goal of ours for some time," said Mayor Carran, noting that a strategic plan for Downtown in 2007 also recommended a BID.
Frew said his organization has a goal of nailing down the necessary support by July at which point the city commission would need to act. Assessment revenue would begin to flow into the BID when property tax bills arrive in January 2014.
The Urban Partnership's clean & safe program was the city's first look at what the BID can do, spending many months cleaning up the streets, removing graffiti, and serving as Downtown ambassadors. The program was discontinued in December due to lack of funding but would return if the BID is approved.
Though, the goal is bigger than cleaner streets.
"This is a lot more than cleaning buildings," Frew said. "It's also about filling those storefronts."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Downtown Covington/RCN file