Downtown Business Owners Approve Improvement District Extension
July 20, 2009
Taxable property owners in downtown Hartford overwhelmingly approved a referendum recently that extends the Hartford Business Improvement District for five more years.
Out of approximately 255 eligible votes, shared between 120 property owners, 188 were cast in favor of keeping the public/private partnership, which aims to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life within the district.
“We are obviously pleased with the overwhelming show of support,” said Michael Zaleski, executive director of the downtown BID. “We knew we had significant support among property owners, but we were still pleasantly surprised by the vote. We see this as an endorsement of what we’ve done over the last three years.”
The Hartford Business Improvement District is a public/private partnership created in 2006 to make the region a more attractive place to live and do business, Zaleski said.
BID’s top priority is keeping downtown safe and clean and it works closely with the mayor’s office, police department and public works department, as well as the area’s more than 100 property owners and other organizations to accomplish its mission.
With the reauthorization of the district, which had a three-year sunset clause, property owners will continue to pay an additional 1 mill assessment above and beyond their regular municipal taxes. Those private dollars, which amount to about $850,000, are joined by a $200,000 contribution from the city.
The money funds services not already provided by the city, and property owners determine how it is spent and managed.
BIDs have become more commonplace throughout the country. More than 1,000 exist nationwide including one in New Haven, Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, Manchester, and New Britain. Zaleski said property owners have realized that they need to invest in and manage the area in which they are located.
Hartford BID’s accomplishments in its first three years include placing numerous security and cleaning ambassadors on the street to provide a safe, reassuring presence and tripling the current number of street sweepers. BID also provides seasonal beautification of the streetscape and a hospitality van service, which helps people who need jumpstarts and tire changes.
The ambassadors also work to remove graffiti within 24 hours of its sighting. Hartford BID also helped launch Hartford.com, which acts as an important marketing device to showcase what the city has to offer prospective visitors.
The No. 1 concern for the BID right now, however, is public safety, an issue that has become especially important in light of the recent shooting at the Mansion Nightclub, which has spurred the concerns of local downtown business owners.
The state temporarily closed the nightclub June 12 after one person was shot and four others were stabbed after they left the club.
It’s a topic Zaleski has taken a very vocal stance on. “We need the police department, city and state to seriously evaluate whether the continued operation of the Mansion is healthy for downtown,” Zaleski said.
There have been 269 police calls to the Mansion in the last few years. “Establishments like the Mansion don’t add to a vibrant night life scene,” Zaleski added. “If downtown is unsafe, people aren’t going to want to come down to work and play.”
In response to the Mansion incident and another shooting at the nearby Papa’s Pizza restaurant, the city council and Mayor Eddie A. Perez have proposed measures to strengthen the laws that regulate late-night restaurants.
The new proposals include forcing restaurants that serve food between 1:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to apply for a special license and giving the police the ability to force late-night restaurants to hire police details.
Currently, that law only applies to convenience stores and places of public amusement.
City councilman Matt Ritter said he supports the ordinances and said the city needs to move quickly on them.
“The measures are all about giving the police department and inspectors more tools at their disposal to deal with problem situations,” Ritter said.
Zaleski said he is encouraged by the two proposals and thinks they can go a long way in ensuring public safety within the entertainment district, which is so important to the business community.
“We need people to recognize that downtown Hartford is safe,” he said. “These isolated incidents that recently occurred aren’t a true reflection of what goes on downtown on a day-to-day basis.”