News

Progess being made with Business Improvement District

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | May 26, 2016 2:00 PM
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Mayor Sherry Capello talks about the preliminary steps facing the board. The Business Improvement District Board met to update Community of Lebanon Association members at a luncheon, Wednesday, May 25, held at Lebanon Country Club. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- While tangible results are still to come, progress is being made in Lebanon's newly created Business Improvement District, members of the board overseeing the program said Wednesday.

Speaking before members of the Community of Lebanon Association at a luncheon held at Lebanon Country Club, board Chairman Mike Kuhn said the application period for hiring a downtown manager to administer the Business Improvement District program is over.

"We've had 19 applicants for the position, and we are down to five or six finalists," he said. "The interviews have been scheduled and, hopefully, we will have a person to announce. I'm not sure when they will officially start, but we'll probably have an announcement in 30 to 60 days."

The Business Improvement District, or BID governing board - which in government-speak is called the Neighborhood Improvement District Management Association, or NIDMA - is composed of the board members of the CLA's nonprofit foundation, Lebanon 2000. A handful of them joined Kuhn and Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello on a panel speaking at Wednesday's luncheon.

Lebanon 2000 was established in 1999 to oversee Lebanon's Main Street Program, an economic initiative similar to the Business Improvement District, Kuhn explained. That program faded out after five years when all the funding from a state grant and the private contributions, which financed it, were spent.

Like the Main Street Program, the Business Improvement District is a five-year economic revitalization program to attract visitors to an area by making improvements and offering services that go beyond those provided by municipal taxes. Examples include things like sidewalk cleaning, special events, property marketing and hiring weekend ambassadors to provide information and an added level of security to downtown visitors.

Also like the Main Street program, the BID is administered by a downtown manager.

A crucial difference, however, is that the program is sustained with funds from a fee charged to commercial property owners in the BID area, which in Lebanon is a roughly 15-square-block zone that includes:

Cumberland Street, from Fourth Street to 11th Street.
The north side of Chestnut Street, from South Seventh Street to South Partridge Street.
The south side of Chestnut Street, from South Seventh Street to South Ninth Street.
The north side of Willow Street, from North Cherry Street to North Seventh Street.
The south side of Willow Street from North Cherry to North Partridge Street.
Each commercial property owner in Lebanon's BID, including rental properties, will be accessed a fee of 2 mills or $250, whichever is greater, which will raise about $115,000 annually. That money will be used to pay the downtown manager's salary and benefits as well as other operating expenses.

Prior to Lebanon City Council's approving creation of a BID in February, many commercial property owners in the district opposed it on the grounds that not everyone was being assessed a fee. They also criticized the approval process which was slanted toward passage because it gave homeowners and nonprofit property owners, who are not required to pay the BID fee, a vote.

Although Councilman Tony Matula eventually voted in favor of the BID, he was often the voice of those who opposed it.

At the outset of Wednesday's luncheon, he revisited their concerns when he confronted the NIDMA members about their activities since it was created.

Matula was unhappy that more information about selecting the downtown manager was not being communicated by the NIDMA board.

"The investors, those who have to pay for this project to proceed, they have been calling me and they say they want to know who is in line for this (downtown manager position)," he said." And I said, you have every right to because this is your BID."

Several times Matula made it clear he favors the goals of the BID but not everybody does.

"I want everyone to know that I wish this project the best success. I want to be the first to say that I was wrong. But I'm getting all this flack from people, we all know who they are. A lot of people voted no," he said.

Capello informed Matula that the BID process is still in its formative stages.

"We are just getting started," she said.

Some developments have, however, gotten under way in the BID area, the mayor said, including initiating a security camera feasibility study and talking with Med-Ed about converting some sodium-vapor street lights to brighter LEDs.

"Once we get approval from Met-Ed that we are allowed to do that, we will implement that change. And we are also adding additional lighting on Willow Street," she said.

Once the downtown manager is on board, more will happen, Kuhn said. That person will play a crucial role in the program's success, he added.

"That person's responsibility is going to be to interact with those (BID) stakeholders downtown and continue to develop this plan; to get to know them and also immediately to try and seek additional funding because the funds we have are limited," he said.

Ray Maillet, assistant vice president with First Priority Bank who also sits on the NIDMA board, agreed.

"I work pretty much in four different counties and have seen these Business Improvement District's work in other places," he said. "And I'm firmly confident that it can work here as well - with the right downtown manager in place."

Dinny Kinloch, also a member of the NIDMA board, said they are in search of stakeholders to sit on an advisory committee that will play a big role in guiding its activities.

"The NIDMA is not the BID, we are kind of housing the program," he said. "We are trying to gather stakeholders to be a part of that process, and they would be an advisory committee to (define) what the goals are of the members of the BID, the actual people who live their and own properties there."

The CLA, which is made up largely of business owners and other community leaders, has been supportive of the BID concept since it was introduced by Capello several years ago.

That support was reflected in the statements of several CLA members including Rich Garipoli, president of the Lebanon Valley Sertoma Club, who drew applause with his comment.

"We have a lot of members here today, and we back you 100 percent," he said to the panel. "We want you to know that. Your community is behind you. So continue on the path you are moving on, and hire that manager and let's do this."

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Lebanon

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