What are the Benefits of Improvement Districts

July 9, 2013 6:00 am

ShoppingRevitalizing a downtown takes partnerships and collaboration of merchants, city government, and the public. Forming improvement districts can help support the growth and revitalization of specific areas of a city, like St. Joseph’s downtown. Improvement districts each have a board of members that brings together public agencies and civic groups all in favor of combining their economic strength and ideas to benefit a part of their city. These benefits reach out to all the community members.

The most impressive benefits of improvement districts are the financial ones. Improvement districts provide additional support to an area of the city beyond the care already provided for by the city government.

Those who are a part of improvement districts have a say in how their money is used. Property owners pay membership fees to help fund the improvement district and therefore offer their voices in whether the money should be used for training, better parking, marketing, or other choices. The members of improvement districts can discuss and agree on common objectives and goals for their specific district.

Financial support from improvement districts is steady and predictable. Some cities have tried to use fundraising to help support improvement, but there is no guarantee of making goals and you cannot have multiple fundraisers every time funds are needed. Member fees are paid quarterly or annually by the district property owners so that future plans can be made for improvements knowing exactly how much money will be in the budget. This defined budget can also then be evaluated and measured with accountability.

Improvement districts can offer opportunities for better marketing and promotion of an area of a city. When property owners band together for a common goal, their determination and strength are multiplied. Better marketing brings in more tourists. Community events highlighting the downtown, like Better Block St. Joseph, help the district merchants band their talents and products together.

While City taxes pay for basic upkeep of a town, the money from improvement districts is used to help pay for even more services specifically for that district. Money can be used to make the area the most convenient and desirable for customers. A snow removal service guarantees that customers can walk conveniently from shop to shop. Money can be spent for beautification, keeping sidewalks and facades clean, and offering services to customers such as more convenient parking and places to sit along a shopping corridor. That money can be used wisely in whatever seems best for the district.

Some cities find that their improvement districts also provide better security for themselves and their customers. Money can be used to hire private security to help make customers and merchants feel more comfortable. One study in Injury Prevention stated that one improvement district discovered a 12 percent reduction in robberies and an 8 percent reduction in violent crimes committed after the improvement district was formed.

Improvement districts enhance the beauty, security, marketing, economy, and community partnerships in little pockets of a city. Their formation not only improves the physical beauty of the area, but improves the local economy.

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