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New legislation may benefit center city

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Members of the Special Business District's advisory board see recently passed legislation as an opportunity for center city.

The community improvement district legislation, House Bill 1636, passed the Missouri legislature this session and is awaiting the governor's signature. Chris Sifford, a spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan said he anticipates the governor will sign the bill, but is not sure of a time for that signing.

"That was a bill the governor supported and I fully expect him to sign it," Sifford said.

The new legislation could result in the Special Business District's expansion. The district could be translated into a community improvement district, and the role of the area's advisory board could also expand significantly.

The Special Business District was established in Springfield in 1981, the result of enabling legislation.

As is provided in a city ordinance, the district is to provide parking management services, said Brian Fogle, member of the SBD board. Fogle said the focus on parking was largely the result of concern over the removal of metered parking downtown.

"Merchants were concerned then, as they are now, about parking for customers, so it was decided that the Special Business District (advisory board) would oversee parking in the area," Fogle said.

The district is currently bounded by Water, Market, McDaniel and Jefferson streets.

The district collects revenue for maintaining customer parking by collecting a property tax from eligible businesses (those that are not tax exempt, such as government entities, churches and schools).

The current level of assessment is 16 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation and 30 percent of business license taxes, Fogle said.

From that, the district collects about $14,000 per year, and some invested funds yield additional money, making the district's budget about $20,000 per year; its budget for this fiscal year (beginning July 1) is set at $20,900 and that proposal will receive a second reading at the June 8 City Council meeting.

The advisory board has been looking the last couple of years for a way to expand both the physical dimensions of the district and its role in downtown, Fogle said.

The Community Improvement District legislation represents an opportunity to do so.

An expanded district could include an area bounded by Water, Main, Elm and Kimbrough streets, Fogle said.

The district's advisory board could also become involved in other activities, such as marketing and promotion, security, economic development and special events.

Fogle said the Community Improvement District provides for more flexibility. The old legislation designated only an advisory board for the district, while the new bill provides for several different forms.

"The board could function as a not-for-profit entity, or it could become a separate political entity with greater decision-making ability that would represent its constituents," Fogle said.

The Special Business District advisory board discussed the new legislation at its June 2 meeting, and it will meet again with Assistant City Attorney Nancy Yendes to ask questions about the differences between the two pieces of legislation, and discuss components of the new bill.

Advisory board member Sam Freeman said he did not recognize too many differences in the two bills.

"The old bill was pretty thorough. I have looked at it several times and am always surprised at what it provides for," Freeman said.

The new bill provides that the Community Improvement District be "blighted" in some way and states that it can be created if the collective owners of 50 percent of the eligible real estate in the area agree to it.

The district can either be a not-for-profit corporation or a political subdivision, in which case, an election is held for members of its governing board. A tax in the district can be levied with the approval of qualified voters in the district. The district may issue obligations. Once the district is created, any property owner may petition for removal of property from the district by ordinance.

How the district will be used, and whether it will become a Community Improvement District instead of a Special Business District has yet to be decided, but a move on this new bill is "critical," Fogle said.

"Right now, it is vital that we move forward and see how we can take advantage of this legislation," Fogle added.

Dennis Radford-Kapp, president of the advisory board, said the work this bill could bring about would mesh well with the implementation of the parking study, presented by Tim Rosenbury of Butler, Rosenbury & Partners to the board a few weeks ago.

"If we can get the parking plan working and sort out some of the management responsibilities down here, we could really create a district that has a lot going for it," Radford-Kapp said.

The board plans a meeting with Yendes June 17 to discuss the legislation further. A public hearing on the parking proposal is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. June 10 at the Landers Theatre.

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