All property owners inside a designated district are assessed a fee as part of their property tax payment like the Special Service Districts, but the money is pooled and managed by a board of property representatives who ensure that sidewalks stay uniformly cleaner, that greenery is planted and cared for, that snow and graffiti are quickly cleaned, and that vendors, festivals and other activities are coordinated. The districts might also employ uniformed ambassadors (on bikes) to offer tourist information and provide extra “eyes on the street”.
How much money might be raised within a roughly 140-block area running from Mississippi River Blvd to Lake Calhoun, and 31st Street to 27th Street?
Businesses themselves will drive the agenda and the district’s accountability. Services — and costs — may be greater within the commercial district nodes and lessen toward the periphery of those nodes.
Can Lake Street compete for new jobs and new residents, visitors and shoppers against downtown and suburban lifestyle centers and corporate campuses that provide a lush and pristine atmosphere? The answer is yes. Lake Street has authenticity, cultural attractions and good restaurants on its side. But to fully compete, it must maintain and build the nice atmosphere that people expect.
More feet on the sidewalk means more dollars in the cash register
Focus on the pedestrian atmosphere has grown sharper as Lake Street has undertaken a conversion of sorts. Transportation planning has begun to recast Lake Street as less an auto-only eight-hour district to a place that emphasizes transit, walking and biking as well as cars. The aim is a nearly 24-hour Lake Street. But to get there the walking atmosphere must continue to be vastly improved.
The theory works this way: beautiful sidewalks draw more people; more people discourage illegal and questionable activity; retail revives, and success feeds on itself.
The clearest need is for central governance. Property owners are rightly frustrated when, for example, a tree dies on their sidewalk and no one knows who’s responsible for replacing it — let alone watering it. Now, there’s no clear accountability for Lake Street’s sidewalks. The city, Park Board, Metro Transit and property owners each point to one another to take responsibility. A Business Improvement District would end the confusion over management and give Lake Street a better chance to compete.
Why can’t the city do this job? The answer is complex. Start with the confusion over who owns what: city-owned or owned privately. It’s a mish-mash. Budget cuts and union rules make it hard for city workers to do a good enough job. The Park Board is responsible for most trees and plants, but the same shortcomings apply. Even if more money could be found to shift to Lake Street, the other city wards would scream foul. The only recourse, really, is to tap Lake Street businesses — as other cities have already discovered.