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Forum on new legislation to be held here Dec. 11

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Missouri is going downtown. More Missourians are working, living and playing in downtown areas, and recent enabling legislation could make Missouri's downtowns even more clean, safe and friendly, local downtowners say.

The Missouri Downtown Association will hold a regional workshop to discuss the new legislation, and how communities such as Springfield can use it, Dec. 11 at the Discovery Center.

The Missouri Downtown Association has just formed this year, said Brian Fogle, member of both the Urban Districts Alliance and Special Business District boards. Fogle is treasurer of the group, which held its first regional workshop in Sedalia in July.

The association was formed because of legislation passed last session that enables Missouri communities to form community improvement districts, or CIDs, self-taxing districts that capture tax money for use within the district.

The districts are most commonly used in downtown areas and 45 other states now have such enabling legislation, said Brad Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates in Denver, Colo.

Segal will be among the presenters at the workshop, and two years ago he completed a study of the Springfield downtown for the Special Business District Advisory Board. Segal said Missouri was one of the last states to enact the legislation; some states have had such an enabling statute for 20 years or more.

Springfield offered to be the host of the workshop because of the community's interest in using the improvement district enabling legislation to form its own district in center city, Fogle said.

Springfield now has the Special Business District, which assesses a tax on businesses in the district, but the district is only a small area of downtown and its responsibility is limited, by city ordinance, to maintaining public parking, Fogle said. Both the UDA and SBD boards are interested in establishing a community improvement district downtown, Fogle said.

"We need to expand our district in Springfield. This legislation is really putting our own destiny in our hands. I encourage business leaders to look at this as a mechanism for our own revitalization and growth," Fogle said.

Segal compared the CID concept to that of a common area maintenance fee paid by tenants in a mall or shopping center.

"In a way, it's a glorified (common area maintenance) fee. It's a way of raising money for the downtown common areas," Segal said.

The special business district now collects 18 cents per $100 of property valuation from the business owners in the district. Certain property is exempt, such as that owned by nonprofit corporations, so the state office building and university property is exempt.

Fogle said that with the expansion of the district, the community could also look at asking for voluntary payment by those nonprofits. The district is now bordered by McDaniel, Jefferson, Water and McDaniel streets.

In his 1996 proposal for the special business district, Segal recommended expanding the district beyond the immediate downtown area to include all of greater center city, including Walnut Street and possibly Southwest Missouri State University.

Lance T. Brown, executive director of the UDA, said that was a suggestion the UDA board was likely to follow. The group is planning to make a presentation to the Special Business District Advisory Board in January on the best way to integrate the community improvement district legislation.

The proposal, though not yet fully formed, would probably involve creating three areas, or tiers, within center city, and applying different assessments to each of those areas.

The first tier, the downtown area, would probably pay at the highest level and therefore receive the most services. The proposal would include ideas about how to use the district funds for maintenance and marketing of center city. UDA will make its presentation to the SBD board in January, Brown said.

Fogle said the Urban Districts Alliance would be the contracting agency for the implementation of the expanded district. The community improvement district itself would have a separate governing body representing the business owners who pay the tax to maintain the district. Whether the Special Business District would continue to exist or be absorbed into the new improvement district is not known, Fogle said.

The workshop will focus on the enabling legislation, including an interpretation of it by Missouri senators, including Sen. Roseann Bentley, who was active in getting the legislation drafted and passed. Segal will be among the workshop presenters who will describe the petition process for forming a community improvement district.

There are two types of community improvement districts, one that is incorporated as a nonprofit corporation, and another that establishes a separate governing body for the district. The legislation also requires a petition, signed by 51 percent of the property owners of the district, in order to form the district.

"Some states don't even require a petition, but it's a good idea. I always encourage people to get as much information out while they're circulating the petition as possible. It really is a way to introduce the idea of the district to business owners and get their ideas," Segal said.

Jim Anderson, who is president of the Urban Districts Alliance board, said the board has a task force, which includes Brown and Fogle, looking at the legislation. Though the task force will have a presentation ready in January, getting a district in place will be a long process, Anderson said.

"We've got a lot of work ahead on this topic; this will be a several-month project. It is crucial, however, that we get active on this idea and that we get something in place to improve our downtown," Anderson said.

Brown said the district would maintain the center city areas, taking care of everything from cleaning up broken glass to beautification with flowers and plants.

"If we get this district in place, we'll have revenue available to us to do all these things and to hire the staff we need to both clean up and beautify the downtown area," Brown said.

Terry Madeksza, executive director of the Missouri Downtown Association, said she expects about 100 participants from throughout Missouri to come to the meeting.

Most of the day will be devoted to community improvement districts, but some time will be allowed for leaders from all over Missouri to share ideas, Anderson said.

"These types of meetings are always positive for us because we come away with so many good ideas from other community leaders," Anderson said.

For more information, or to register for the meeting, call Madeksza at 314-436-6500.

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