What is the Process of Starting an Improvement District

DowntownMost towns in America are rooted in their downtown. Those old buildings and streets were the first to offer groceries, healthcare, horse and buggy care, and household supplies. As towns grow and economic development moves into different pockets around a city, that original neighborhood of homes and shops sometimes are forgotten. Some cities aren’t letting that happen.

St. Joseph began growing from the river. The founder cradled the downtown district in the curve of the Muddy Missouri. The French names of his children are forever inscribed on the street signs. Today, city planners, merchants, and private citizens, are collaborating together to renovate that downtown and keep it alive forever, too.

Creating an improvement district takes collaboration, planning, and an agreement by the stakeholders that these funds will be used advantageously for the whole community. An improvement district helps acquire funds in taxes or fees that will help make improvements to the area, support businesses, and spur economic development in a designated boundary in the district. Improvement districts can be in any area of a city. In St. Joseph, one of those improvement districts was formed to help revitalize its historic downtown.

For St. Joseph, it was natural for the St. Joseph Downtown Partnership to initiate the plan for the downtown community improvement district. This partnership is composed of members such as the City of St. Joseph, St. Joseph Metro Chamber, Buchanan County, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downtown Association, Downtown St. Joseph Redevelopment, and Downtown Special Business District.

In order to create an improvement district, property owners must sign a petition of agreement detailing the next five years under the community improvement district. Next, public hearings must be scheduled to relay the plans. After clearly showing the advantages and the use of the improvement plan, the City Council will vote on its approval.

Registered voters in the district must also approve funding that would come from sales taxes, property taxes, and other user fees. This can make the process more time-consuming, but will get the vested support of the community’s citizens. Once the improvement district is initiated, a board of directors must be appointed to oversee it. These directors can be appointed by residents and property owners within the boundaries of the CID or by city officials.

Forming an improvement district can contribute to the goals of downtown partnerships. With the funds created by the improvement district, business owners can gain better marketing experiences that can help the downtown thrive. Funding can be used to educate businesses in product presentation, window displays, best hours of operation, and more.

In St. Joseph, the downtown is being re-energized by partnerships and pride. Old buildings are being renovated; loft apartments, new restaurants, bakeries, and trendy shops are appearing. It is not really “out with the old, in with the new.” Supporting and revitalizing an old downtown is “preserving the old, and welcoming the new”.