Downtown Improvement District (DID): Creating A Clean, Safe & Welcoming Olympia
by Doug Mah, Doug Mah & Associates, Thurston Chamber Public Policy Director
Originally published in the Thurston Chamber’s VOICE Magazine | December 2019
This Fall, the Olympia Downtown Alliance started working to establish a Downtown Improvement District or DID. Thurston Chamber members will soon hear more about this proven means to help communities prosper and thrive.
The District goals are simple: create a cleaner, safer and more welcoming environment for everyone in downtown Olympia. The Improvement District uses a private sector funding model to bring improvements and new services to a designated area. New services, such as enhanced safety and maintenance, are provided exclusively within the district, and are an enhancement to – rather than a replacement of – those already provided by the City. Districts work in the same way as a “common area maintenance agreements” used in shopping malls and office parks.
State law allows districts to be self-imposed by property owners in the designated area. It is not a tax. However, formation of the DID requires that property owners petition the City to establish the district. The petition to create the district must be supported by more than 60 percent of the total assessment to be paid. When there is sufficient support through the petition process, a public hearing will be held by City Council, and the City Council will consider establishing the new Downtown Improvement District through city ordinance.
The proposed DID differs from the current Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA) that was established more than a decade ago. According to Todd Cutts, Downtown Alliance Executive Director, “the PBIA assessment is placed directly on business owners. The DID differs by placing assessment on property owners”. The assessment, or cost to property owners, will vary based on a formula that accounts for property location within the district, property type, frontage, and assessed value. The proposed DID assessment provides a greater level of service to those in the district than the PBIA can afford since the PBIA budget is about $100,000 per year and the proposed DID budget is larger at about $560,000 per year.
However, the proposed governing board of directors for the DID will include both property owners and business operators within the district. It is expected that the Board will represent a wide variety of geographic subdistricts and use-types within Olympia’s downtown. Clean & Safe Services will be the primary and initial focus of the district and the new board of directors when they are established.
Clean and safe services include a hospitality and safety ambassador program that may include offering information, assistance, and safety escorts to downtown visitors, workers, and residents; outreach and connection to local service providers for downtown’s street dependent population; and management of nuisance issues. Other activities supported may include comprehensive sidewalk sweeping, scrubbing, and power washing; litter removal; and landscaping maintenance.
As proposed, the DID will have an initial term of 10 years. Five years into the district’s formation, a formal evaluation will be conducted to determine if the services and assessment methods are consistent with the needs of the district. To extend the DID beyond the initial 10-year term, a new petition process will need to be undertaken to affirm support for the district.
Downtown Improvement Districts are common across the country and in Washington found in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Yakima, and Spokane. Improvement districts are also found in state capitals such as Sacramento, Boise, and Madison. According to Kevin Stormans, business and property owner of Bayview Thriftway within the proposed district, “once in place, Downtown Improvement Districts have strong support from downtown property owners”. According to Stormans, “the renewal rate for districts across the nation is about 99 percent.”
The Olympia Downtown Alliance would like to have the district in place and operational by mid-2020. This requires significant outreach; business plan development; agreement on the size of the district and assessment formula by the property owners; and the gathering of petition signatures by the district proponents. The City will need to hold study sessions with stakeholders; draft and pass council resolutions and ordinances to bring the district to life.
The Thurston Chamber of Commerce supports the efforts of the Downtown Alliance and the creation of the Downtown Improvement District. The Public Policy Division believes that the proposed DID is a viable and proven means to better support Olympia’s Downtown. We encourage Chamber members to learn more about the district at www.downtownolympia.org and to help support the creation of the DID.