Downtown divided – Business owners split over Nevada City proposal
Plans to create a business improvement district in Nevada City – akin to Grass Valley’s Downtown Association – have split many of the city’s business owners into two opposing camps.
Proponents claim the district is needed to ensure that all business owners, rather than only members of Nevada City’s Chamber of Commerce, contribute to efforts to promote businesses and beautify downtown.
“We need it,” said Leea Davis, owner of Earth Store. “Every town needs to improve, and we are one of them. Grass Valley has a business improvement district; Truckee has a business improvement district. You can see it when you’re there.”
But some opponents see the district as a layer of bureaucracy that charges a fee to do work that could be done by the Chamber of Commerce and the city.
“We have an entity that is doing the very same things, ” said Tom Coleman, owner of the National Hotel.
Coleman is spearheading a drive to collect signatures opposing the district and is actively lobbying business owners to join his camp.
District supporters include a diverse bunch of business owners who have a variety of visions on the uses and structure of a business improvement district.
In general, supporters want to use the district to reach out to locals, encouraging them to visit and spend money downtown. They want to enhance the Chamber’s downtown beautification efforts, ensuring that the sidewalks remain clean and that all downtowners pay for the winter light displays.
But they also want to recruit businesses to fill vacant spots, which some critics see as a powerful tool in deciding who can or can’t set up shop downtown.
“We’re hoping to be a real business support resource … more of a formalized community,” said district supporter Lee Ann Brook, owner of Brook Design Group. “We would not be dictating the types of businesses.”
While the district might not have final say on new shops, it could help fill perceived gaps.
“The business improvement district would like to try to influence who does go into spaces to try to create a balance,” said Bob Buhlis.
“There is no way we (as business owners) are in a position we can say somebody can’t be in a space or limit the number of real estate offices.”
One of the major issues at the heart of the improvement district debate is the role of real estate shops, which some business owners have argued should be limited to keep retail space available downtown.
As recently elected president of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, Buhlis said he does not want to take a position on the district until he receives the results of the internal poll currently being conducted by the Chamber.
In the past, however, he said, he has supported creating a district.
On Jan. 13, the Chamber sent out a letter to its more than 350 members asking them to vote on whether the Chamber should support the district’s creation. The mailing included a pro and con statement about the creation of the district.
When the election results have been tallied soon after the Jan. 31 deadline, the supporters will make a presentation before the City Council and mail the official ballots to create the district, Buhlis said.
Stu Wolfson, co-owner of Maiden Lane, and Leonard Berardi, owner of Mountain House Books, launched the current effort to create the district about a year ago. Neither man was available for comment in recent days.
Scott Mackey, a real estate agent with Mackey Real Estate and opponent of the district, said he remains doubtful the district is being formed for the stated reasons.
“The business improvement district has its own agenda and it’s not necessarily for the love of Nevada City,” Mackey said, emphasizing that he doesn’t believe that all supporters of the district have ulterior motives.
Brook said she became involved with the district to give back to the community.
“I’m not a committee person,” Brook said. “The thing I love about it is it’s so exciting thinking of ideas that aren’t going to take a lot of money. There’s very positive energy.”
What is a business improvement district?
Created by the California legislature in the mid-1960s, and then amended in the mid-1980s, a business improvement district is an entity created by either business or property owners to levy fees and provide services.
The district will be created if a majority of businesses – weighted by size, value or potential benefit – return a ballot and vote for the district’s creation. A vote of the City Council would formally create the district.
Nevada City’s proposed district boundaries tentatively span from the Broad Street split to Sacramento Street and from the intersection of York and Pine streets to the Pine Street bridge.
Each business within the district would pay a fee, which has not yet been determined. But it would average about $1 per day, said Lee Ann Brook, a district advocate.
The fee would be collected by a nonprofit organization and distributed by a steering committee, which would govern the district during its first year, Brook said.
The City Council must re-authorize the district each year.
For more information, contact district organizer Wyn Spiller at 265-9463.
– Becky Trout
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