City Council updated on BIA plans for 2003

With a focus on the maintenance of common areas, security and increased marketing of the city’s downtown area, the City Council was updated on plans for Tacoma’s Business Improvement Area in 2003 and beyond.

City staff and members of the Local Development Council (LDC) – a privately directed, not-for profit corporation that administers the Business Improvement Area – made a presentation during Tuesday’s City Council study session.

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is a special assessment district that allows local property owners to fund improvements or services beyond those provided by the local government.

The BIA’s current boundary is generally defined as being South 7th Street to South 21st Street and A Street west to Court D.

“Tacoma’s BIA was initially established in 1988,” said Bart Alford of the Tacoma Economic Development Department.

A city ordinance in 1998 renewed the BIA for another 10 years.

“BIAs are not unique to the state of Washington,” said Richard Brandsma, LDC president, noting they are common throughout the United States and Canada.

According to a 1999 study of districts in North America by the School of Public Affairs at City University of New York, BIAs represent “an innovate approach to the delivery of public services.”

That innovate approach has helped Tacoma’s downtown develop during the last 15 years, with a recent survey showing ratepayers takes on the program’s successes and areas that need improvement.

As part of building a better downtown, the BIA has concentrated on blowing and sweeping sidewalks, pressure washing sidewalks, graffiti removal and the pick up and removal of syringes.

Security, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has taken on additional importance, in the form of private security patrols on bicycles, support for the Tacoma Police Department’s “cops on bikes,” coordination of downtown security efforts and alert downtown property owners and managers.

The continued marketing of Tacoma includes the city partnering with the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and the LDC to develop (, the nation’s first online directory for downtown properties.

Paul Ellis, director of metropolitan development for the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, described as a “landmark program used by many developers to prospect sites.”

The LDC has begun installing street banners – several can be seen lining Pacific Avenue – on downtown arterials to add color and assist people traveling on foot.

In December, the Seattle-based Gilmore Research Group conducted a comprehensive ratepayer survey indicated most were at least somewhat satisfied with current services provided by the BIA.

Of the 44 respondents – representing one or more properties each – BIA ratepayers said they saw the most progress in residential use structures, improved transit, promotion of downtown Tacoma in the region, clean streets and sidewalks, the providing of adequate lighting and security for safe streets – somewhat ironic considering the recent controversy regarding streetlights being shut off.

Ratepayers said they saw the least progress in the areas of parking, downtown retail development and street furnishings and directional signage for downtown landmarks and walking.

Council members Kevin Phelps and Sharon McGavick said they would like to see the BIA focus more on retail. Mayor Bill Baarsma and Ellis agreed the LDC and the city need to do a better job of communicating to the public what the BIA does and promoting the district.

Overall, however, the City Council indicated it was pleased with what the BIA has accomplished so far.

“You’ve made a significant difference in our community,” McGavick said.

Baarsma called the city’s transformation “remarkable,” adding, “It’s like night and day.”

The BIA’s current rates are 9 cents per square foot for occupied space and 3 cents per square foot for parking lots, vacant and warehouse space and housing. Approximately 4.3 million square feet qualify for the high rate and 5.5 million square feet qualify for the low rate.

The BIA’s approved budget for 2002-2003 is $620,145. The proposed 2003-2004 budget is $651,570. A request to approve the BIA’s proposed levy fund is set for the March 11 City Council meeting.