Branson’s 76 Entertainment Community Improvement District is about to add over 170 businesses to the special taxing area, in a move that’s expected to increase sales tax revenue roughly tenfold to $4.5 million annually.
The Branson Board of Aldermen on June 23 unanimously approved expanding the district, aka the 76ECID, to from one to six defined areas in the five-mile entertainment district corridor. The board’s decision increases the number of businesses assessed the 1% CID sales tax by five times.
The expansion allows for an ongoing $80 million revitalization project of Highway 76 to continue, officials said.
“We want to continue to invest in the Highway 76 Country Boulevard corridor to ensure its longevity and to continue to be the heart of the tourist community in Branson,” said Joel Hornickel, city of Branson’s director of planning and development.
Tax revenue collection in the expanded CID will begin Oct. 1, Branson Finance Director Jamie Rouch said. It’s expected to generate 10 times more than the current tax collections. The tax has brought in around $400,000 annually since October 2016 in the initial CID, totaling roughly $1.5 million to date.
In May 2016, property owners along Highway 76 west from Presleys’ Country Jubilee to the Branson Ferris Wheel voted in support of a 1% sales tax on items sold at businesses within the district with funding earmarked for infrastructure improvements along the highway.
Branson has spent $22.9 million on the Highway 76 revitalization project thus far within the initial CID, said Rouch. Roughly $56 million in additional cost is expected for work in the rest of the CID.
On the strip
The CID now spans 76 Country Boulevard from Shepherd of the Hills Expressway east to the Branson Auto & Farm Museum. The expansion brings the CID to 973 acres from 68, said Ann McDowell, a spokesperson for the 76ECID. She said 176 properties are being added to the original 35 as part of the expansion. Among businesses in the expanded CID are the White Water, Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Fritz’s Adventure and Titanic Museum attractions, Hurts Donut and Gettin’ Basted eateries, and Tanger Mall and Dickens Gift Shoppe retail sites.
76ECID Board Chair Gail Myer said the corridor’s enhancements and renovation is significant for what he calls "the most famous street in the Midwest."
“The real initial intent was to enhance theaters, attractions and fun things in the 76 corridor,” he said of the CID formation. “It truly is the artery to the heart of Branson.”
Improvements to the Highway 76 CID area include road configuration changes, upgrading utilities and landscaping, adding lighting, pedestrian walkways, way-finding signs and markers, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Hornickel said the city’s master plan for highway improvements at one time included trolley service, but officials never pursued the idea due to potential costs concerns.
The city approved a memorandum of understanding in 2016 with American Gondola Inc. for a possible $160 million-plus gondola passenger system stretching from downtown along Highway 76 to Silver Dollar City, according to past SBJ reporting. However, Hornickel said the memorandum expired after two years as the company was never able to get the private project funded.
Hornickel said the only work remaining in the CID’s initial segment is the burying of overhead utilities.
Funding for the project utilizes sales tax revenues generated by the CID, as well as the city’s tourism tax designated for infrastructure, Hornickel said. There’s no set timeline for the project completion with the CID and its tax collection doesn’t sunset, he added.
Not too fast
Despite the expansion approval, CID board and city officials don’t expect additional revitalization work on Highway 76 to commence anytime soon. The timeline is at least two to three years away, Hornickel said, as the future project phases will require design and construction document development.
“Now is not the ideal time to try and fund a significant project,” he said, referring to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “Not only will that cause us a little bit of a hold to finance the remainder of the project, but now we need to look to bring on a project manager … that can serve as the liaison between the CID board, city and future consultant to be hired to do design work for remaining phases.”
Commercial 1 Brokers co-owner Steve Critchfield is among those with property on Highway 76 in the expanded CID. The brokerage firm co-owns Grand Village Shops with Evanston, Illinois-based CenterCore Properties LLC.
Critchfield said the expansion is the biggest commercial real estate deal the community has achieved outside of Branson Landing, the $420 million outdoor retail center along Lake Taneycomo.
He said the city and CID board are taking the right approach to gradually tackle improvements on the 76 corridor.
“It’s going to be broken up into phases. It’s going to take longer, but it’s more bite-sized pieces and it’s doable,” he said. “They’re not going to do anything until they have the money to do it.”
This isn’t the first time the 76ECID has sought to grow its footprint. A proposal in 2018 to expand to over 1,040 acres was a bit too large in scope, Hornickel said, adding it never gained enough momentum to come to a vote of the Board of Aldermen.
“They sold the thing as bigger than it should have been,” Critchfield said.
Some of the delay has been time to track down out-of-town owners to sign the district’s expansion petition, said 76ECID’s Myer, who’s also vice president of operations for Myer Hospitality Inc. His company owns Best Western Center Pointe Inn and Quality Inn West in the CID. At least 86 property owners had to sign in favor of the expansion before it could come before the Board of Aldermen for a vote. He said the 76ECID board stopped collecting signatures after 92 signed in approval by February.
Hornickel said the goal of the city and the CID board is to improve the pedestrian experience on Highway 76 in aesthetics and safety.
“It’s definitely a long-term vision and the goal of that vision is to spark redevelopment within the corridor,” he said, pointing to the recently opened $13 million WonderWorks Branson LLC and the $51 million Aquarium at the Boardwalk, set to launch later this year. Both attractions are in the CID.
“Every year, we’re seeing people reinvesting in property along that corridor, which gives us a lot of confidence that what we’re trying to do is accomplishing the goal,” Hornickel said.
Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.
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