Following a productive community town hall on April 18th, the Downtown Business Improvement District Board has planned its next formal meeting.
The Board is set to meet at noon on Monday, May 8th, in the first-floor conference room at City Hall, 2424 14th St. in downtown Columbus.
“Read the previous meeting minutes, come prepared to ask questions that the BID is specifically responsible for, and bring ideas/thoughts that have not been discussed,” Board Chairman Josh Johnson said.
The town hall held on April 18th at the Columbus Innovation Center brought out approximately two dozen downtown business and property owners, as well as interested residents. The town hall featured a lively discussion, where attendees were able to ask specific questions to the board and City leaders, express their opinions and get a better understanding of the board’s intentions. It also gave board members an even better grasp on what downtown property and store owners would like to see happen downtown.
“I felt that we had several members of the community realize what it is that the BID would be responsible for, the separation of the (Downtown Business Association), and how the funds would be utilized. Many points made around the funds and who controls those funds was a concern to many members who wanted to ensure the money would be the whole district not just a single street,” Johnson said.
“In all, I was extremely happy with the turnout, the willingness to discuss and identifying other key stakeholders that need to be contacted in the near future.”
The board reviewed the proposed assessment that would fund the BID. It would be based on a $200 per $100,000 valuation per county records, with a $750 cap per property. That would net $45,827.26 in year one, but the City of Columbus would also match that amount, to give the board a first-year budget of approximately $91,654.52.
Owner-occupied single-family residences would be excluded from the assessment, as would tax-exempt properties such as churches and government-owned properties (businesses that have residential rental units on their second story would still be included).
City leaders have stated the government agency will match funds for the first five years, not ruling out extending the commitment beyond that time period.
Longtime resident Pat Mueller owns multiple properties downtown with her husband, Scott. She said the City’s willingness to match the funds raised by the BID is a game-changer.
“I see it as a gift that the City is willing to help,” Mueller said days after the town hall, adding she felt it would be a shame if downtown property owners didn’t see that as an advantage.
Mueller was one of several people who spoke up during the town hall, noting she felt it was a great chance for everyone to talk openly.
“I’m really glad we had that meeting, and it was nice there was a good turnout,” she said, adding her appreciation to the BID board members for their commitment to helping improve downtown. “Even though there was a variety of emotions and feelings, I think it was a good way to educate people and get their input.”
Throughout the meeting, attendees expressed a variety of views. Some indicated they hadn’t made up their mind, while others said they were either for or against it. Mueller said she didn’t think anyone was being negative, but rather was showing their concerns. Being in attendance, expressing opinions and asking questions shows that everyone in the room cares, she noted.
Mueller made a plea to town hall attendees to consider supporting the BID when postcard survey mailings are sent out.
In creating a BID, more than 50% of affected property owners within the district must object for the effort to fail, per state statute. When postcards eventually go back out again, property owners are asked to send back with a response, as a no response is considered as an affirmative "yes."
Neb. rev. stat. 19-4027 reads, in part, “If a special assessment is to be used, proceedings shall terminate if written protest is made prior to the close of the hearing by the record owners of over 50% of the assessable units in the proposed business improvement district.”
There’s also 19-4034(2) of the Business Improvement District Act, which states, "Unless objections are filed with the city clerk at least five days before the hearing, all objections to the amount of total costs and the assessment percentages should be deemed to have been waived and the assessments shall be levied as stated in such notice except that the city council may reduce any assessment percentage."
“We definitely support it,” Mueller said of her and her husband’s stance on the Downtown Business Improvement District. “It’s a step in the right direction for the growth of downtown. It takes a whole community for a downtown to remain the heart of the community …
“Independently, business owners don’t always have the time to do something outside their business, but if everyone stands together, we can each do our own small part to create a lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren by investing in the downtown.”
Johnson said he’s appreciative of Mueller for speaking up in favor of the BID, noting he thought her highlighting the City’s willingness to match funding for the district was a great point.
“It’s nice to have individuals who have contributed directly to the area come out to support the general good of all property owners in the whole district,” he said.
The board chairman praised all attendees for taking the time to come to the town hall.
“I can’t thank them enough for taking time out of their busy lives to speak their mind,” Johnson said. “It is nearly impossible to get everyone to agree on a subject like this, but I was happy that they all were willing to listen to each other during discussions.”