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Consultant hired to aid DID’s bid for renewal

– The Downtown Improvement District is hiring an out-of-state consultant to help prepare for its bid next year for reauthorization.

Board members voted Tuesday to allocate $7,500 for a contract with Centro, a Denver consulting firm that specializes in downtowns.

The DID is a quasi-governmental agency created by state statute to promote, beautify and advocate for downtown Fort Wayne. The organization collects taxes from businesses that operate in a designated area.

A majority of ratepayers and City Council members must approve before the organization can be reauthorized. DID’s second 10-year charter expires at the end of 2015.

Board members believe that an outside perspective on DID’s performance and goals will help persuade any reluctant property owners or City Council members to support the organization’s renewal.

Jamie Licko, Centro’s founder and president, is a former executive director of the Cedar Rapids Downtown District and former associate for a national downtown and community development consulting group.

Licko’s full, multiphased proposal would cost about $50,000, but DID leaders decided to sign a contract for only the first phase. That includes gathering information and ratepayer opinions on topics including:

•Boundary – Should the district remain in the same area or expand its borders?

•Services – Are the right services being performed, and are they being performed well? If the district expanded, what services would businesses in the new area like to receive?

•Assessment and budget – Is the current assessment structure acceptable? Does the annual assessment need to increase to pay for new services?

“One of the things we’ll be doing during reauthorization is evaluating the ratepayers’ appetite for paying more,” said Ronda Hanning, DID finance committee chairwoman and co-chair of the reauthorization committee.

The DID has assessed downtown property owners a total of $300,000 each year for the past 10 years.

How much individual property owners pay depends on their property’s value and its percentage of the total downtown property value.

For example, if all the property in the designated downtown area were valued at $100 million, and an individual owner’s total property holdings within the boundary lines was appraised at $1 million, that property owner would be assessed 1/100th of the $300,000 total DID assessment.

Hanning said the DID’s flat assessment rate has forced the organization to be smarter about how it accomplishes its mission over the years.

Licko will interview key stakeholders inside the district and in potential expansion areas. She will survey property owners in both areas to determine priorities for services and update the property database to ensure accuracy.

DID’s board hopes to accomplish reauthorization by the end of June 2015, even though it has until December of next year.

Bill Brown, a business owner and Allen County councilman, is DID’s president. He said after the meeting that he maintains regular contact with key stakeholders in downtown to keep up with concerns and requests.

Brown doesn’t think the consultant will find disgruntled property owners or a lack of support for the assessment that supports DID, which organizes events including the Groundhog Open, BuskerFest, Lunch on the Square and Fright Night.

Contract negotiations are ongoing between DID and Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the economic development organization created last year with the union of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance.

DID wasn’t included in the merger because there would be legal implications if it joined with two nonprofits.

But local officials have said they’d like to fold the DID’s activities into the new organization as much as possible. DID could pay its entire annual budget to Greater Fort Wayne which, in turn, would hire DID staff to carry out DID’s mission.

The contorted arrangement would allow DID to continue assessing an additional tax on businesses within the district while directing that the money be spent only on goods and services that benefit that limited downtown area.

Hanning said DID officials can pursue reauthorization without waiting for a resolution of the Greater Fort Wayne talks because DID will either remain independent or will retain its revenue stream and responsibilities while operating under the Greater Fort Wayne umbrella.

Dave Arnold, the DID’s chairman, said neither DID nor Greater Fort Wayne board members are dragging their feet in drafting a contract that would define the organizations’ relationship. “We’re really trying to make an informed decision,” he said.