Downtown Business Improvement District gets the nod for 10-year renewal

With majority support from businesses, the Downtown Business Improvement District is on track for a 10-year renewal, maintaining the services Missoula residents have come to appreciate. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

With two dissenting votes, members of the Missoula City Council this week voted to renew the Downtown Business Improvement District for another 10 years, citing its economic contributions to the city’s core.

In doing so, the council opted to keep the district’s current boundary intact while exempting a handful of properties that are zoned primarily residential from paying into the fund that maintains the district and its benefits.

“We talked about the possibility of changing the boundary line,” said council member Heather Harp. “Sometimes properties change purposes, and sometimes zoning happens, but we thought it wise to keep the boundary line as it is today.”

The district promotes the health, safety and prosperity of downtown visitors and businesses, though advocates say it does much more. It provides garbage collection seven days a week, plows the alleys, chips ice from storm drains and hangs holiday decorations.

The BID also serves as the district’s economic representative. It recently led an update to the Downtown Master Plan, which has leveraged an estimated $800 million in new development over the past 10 years.

Nearly 190 new businesses have opened downtown during that time, according to Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership .

“When we created the BID in 2005, it happened at the same time that Urban Renewal District I sunsetted, and the boundaries matched,” said McCarthy. “The Missoula Redevelopment Agency had invested a lot of dollars into rebuilding our downtown, and the BID was created to help maintain that.”

The district was first created in 2005 and renewed for 10 years in 2010. Roughly 70 percent of the district’s properties have signed the petition requesting an extension to 2030.

State law requires that show of support.

“We’re over 70 percent of the district that’s petitioned. It’s a demonstration of affirmative support,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg. “It’s what the state Legislature requires for the establishment of one of these districts.”

In the last fiscal year, assessments collected by the BID for the improvements and services it offers totaled $381,700. It’s funded by roughly 700 properties within the defined boundary and includes 446 distinct properties.

The district has won wide support from the downtown community, though some didn’t support its renewal on Wednesday, including council members Sandra Vasecka and Jesse Ramos.

They don’t believe the minority of dissenting businesses within the district should be assessed the fee that funds the district’s wider benefits.

“There are a lot of people who support the services of the BID, and there are others who don’t,” Ramos said. “I think these services could be offered on a voluntary basis.”