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Sandpoint puts a LID on Improvement

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LID creation a cornerstone in downtown revitalization

The creation of a local improvement district (LID) is the latest victory in a series of positive steps focused on solidifying the city of Sandpoint’s commitment to downtown revitalization. Previously, the Sandpoint Business Association (SBA) had one principle funding mechanism – the Business Improvement District (BID). The terminology "BID" referred both to the geographic area that defined the business designated to contribute, as well as the fee itself. Fees paid to the city of Sandpoint range from $10-$65 per month, based on the square footage of the business space. One complaint frequently heard by the Executive Director of the SBA was the perception that only business renters paid, and not landlords or property owners. All that has changed with the unanimous resolution passed by the city council Wednesday, September 18th at their regular business meeting.

A small number of complaints from property owners, both written and verbal, were dismissed in a motion initiated by then council member Miller and seconded by council member Elliott. The development of an LID has been in the works for many months and the resolution was the final step in what could broadly be described as “Phase I” of the funding mechanisms. Larry Comer, of Welsh, Comer and Associates, showed a brief presentation that visually depicted the formation of the LID as the mid-point of an hourglass. All of the previous steps - negotiating the payment amount, calculating payment terms and providing formal notification to property owners - had to be completed prior to the resolution being initiated by the city council. The LID assessment was calculated at $100 per front foot for parcels fronting the improved areas.

Passage of the resolution could have been seen as a mere formality, ensuring the legal instrument by which the city could begin collections. However, nothing has been considered a given with the city council, in pursuit of downtown revitalization as a tool for economic development. Some council members have developed a reputation for their proactive support, principally Sue Haynes and Francis Ogilvie, both of whom are small business owners in the downtown area and pay into the BID. The majority of the Council has demonstrated the importance of understanding the revitalization plans by attending key briefings and presentations, but not all members have shown a consistent pledge to correlating public investment and private partnership as the engine of economic development. For this reason, the decisive endorsement of the LID showed the arduous process of communicating the details of infrastructure improvement is paying off for the SBA and its proponents.

The bottom half of the symbolic hourglass in Comer’s presentation depicted a pyramided advancement of the first phase of capital improvement, beginning with securing funding through the Idaho State Community Block Grant process. Final designs and bidding would occur in the spring of 2003, construction would begin in May with completion slated for fall 2003.

The project target area is between Second and Third Avenue and focuses on the creation of a center square on Main Street. Total project costs are $908,500 and the goal is to secure a $500,000 Block grant. Projected property owner assessments are $137,500, with owners having the choice between full payment at $100 per front foot by project completion, or 7% financed payments over 15 years in annual installments based on $11 per front foot. Property owners' portion of the contribution is approximately 15% of the total project costs, and their contribution represents part of the very crucial self-funding, or grant match, required in the grant application. The match shows that a city cares proportionally about its own future, and the state should assist by investing in the capital project. Other sources of funding include city internal budgeting and a proposed city resort tax which has yet to be formalized.

After passing the LID resolution, the city council moved immediately to the business of appointing a new mayor to serve the remainder of former Mayor Paul Graves term. In a motion initiated by council member Boge, and seconded by Elliott, the die was cast for council member Miller to serve as mayor. In a brief response to a question regarding his vision for the city, Miller highlighted the necessity of supporting downtown revitalization and helping businesses stay robust in a sluggish economy. This is a good sign for both businesses and the SBA, who must work closely with local government to create workable solutions to support businesses during the very difficult period of initiating permanent structural change to the appearance of the city. The Fifth Avenue project, downtown revitalization, the Sandcreek By-way and the planning for a new corridor between Fifth Avenue and Pine Street, or Highway 2, all represent long term change that includes short term hardship. Making sure that hardship is minimized requires forethought, sensible planning and clear communications.

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Carol Curtis

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Sandpoint, DSBA, LID

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