Business owners asked to support new concept
The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership is gauging public opinion about its proposed Downtown Business Improvement District.
The district would cover roughly 75-square blocks in the heart of the city, stretching from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the east to Business 40 in the west and include portions of Broad, Marshall, Patterson and Church streets. The businesses and residents in the area would receive expanded beautification and sanitation services and stronger marketing and promotion in exchange for an increased tax rate of nine cents per every $100 of estimated tax value, or roughly $7.50 a month for a property valued at $100,000. The District has an estimated property value of $533 million, according to 2012 statistics.
DWSP Chair Mark Dunnagan, VP of project development for Frank L. Blum Construction, said the City of Winston-Salem and the DWSP’s efforts to increase the appeal of downtown have been successful. Statistics show lunchtime foot traffic has increased by 100 percent between 2006 and 2011 and dinnertime crowds have more than tripled. The increased activity has created the need for the Downtown Business Improvement District, which would alleviate some of the burden the city is currently shouldering to maintain the area, Dunnagan said.
“What you’re seeing is this … resurgence of the importance of downtown in the life of Winston-Salem,” Dunnagan said. “The more people you have, the more big city-type issues you have.”
If the measure is approved by the City Council, an Advisory Committee made up of Council members, downtown stakeholders and DWSP members would be selected to oversee the distribution of the funds generated to private companies that would bid for the projects. Among the proposed services the District would offer are graffiti, snow and ice removal from properties in the area, increased security and beautification efforts like hanging plants along streets and new holiday decorations for downtown streets.
The Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership has held a series of input meetings. City East Ward City Council Member Derwin Montgomery said the Business Improvement District is a smart choice.
“When you look at cities our size across the state, we’re behind when it comes to having a Business Improvement District,” he said. “…The services will be a continuation of the current services. I think there’s a need for enhancement and as a city, we can’t afford those enhanced services.”
John Davenport isn’t convinced the idea would work. A School Board member and owner of Davenport Transportation Consultants (which is located in the proposed District), Davenport said the proposal will do little to bring more people downtown.
“If you’re talking about increased garbage collection and beautification, I personally don’t think that’s what keeps people from coming downtown,” he said. “I think downtown’s clean now. I don’t think there’s the perception that it’s dirty or unsafe.”
Davenport, who leases 6,000-square-feet of office space in the Chatham Building on Fourth Street, said small businesses will be the ones to feel the increase the most, and may or may not receive increased business as a result.
“You’re basically asking folks to pay an extra tax just because they live (or work) in a certain district, so what are they going to get out of that?” Davenport said. “Additional beautification or garbage collection is really not sufficient.”
Davenport said he would like to see the Partnership find ways to tackle the challenges that he believes are truly driving potential customers away, such as the public’s perception that there is a lack of convenient or accessible parking in the area.
Although a few stakeholders have objected to the idea of creating a district, most downtown business owners are supportive of it, Dunnagan said.
“By and large, when we have explained the value to them, they have understood that value,” he stated. “…When we really started looking at it actually again in the last year or so, we went to all our large businesses, because frankly, they’re footing the bill… All of the large business owners have said, ‘Yes, we think this will make our city a better place to live.’”
Former DWSP Chair Michael Suggs said he is in favor of creating the District.
“We do support it because we think it’s really going to improve the attractiveness of the area,” Suggs said. “There have been some concerns raised that we need to improve the area and improve security, and we think that this will go a long way to do that.”
Suggs, the executive director of Goler Community Development Corp. and co-owner of the popular Trade Street boutique Body & Soul, said he would incur greater taxes both at Goler properties and Body & Soul if the District is implemented, but he believes the end result would be well worth the added cost.
“We made this investment in the downtown area, and what we are seeing is the Business Improvement District would protect those investments,” he said. “We’ve done a lot to develop this downtown to where it is … and the more usage that you have in downtown, the more upkeep it needs. I think that this will provide the funding for that additional upkeep.”
The public will have the chance to weigh in on the issue at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting, and Council members will have the option to vote that day or request further information about the project before making a decision, Dunnagan said.
The DWSP will host a second Public Drop-In session on Monday, Sept. 23 from 4–6 p.m. in the Chatham Building Atrium, 305 W. Fourth Street. No RSVP is required. For more information, visit www.dwsp.org or call 336-354-1500.