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Cultural District Alliance still wants improvement district

Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth’s Cultural District Alliance will discuss the possibility of a Public Improvement District this year even though a proposal for such a district came up short in 2013, local developer and alliance chairman Andrew Blake said at the alliance’s annual meeting Jan. 27.

Property owners in the district couldn’t agree last year on how to shape a Cultural District PID, and the alliance’s petition to the city didn’t have the required signatures by a summer deadline. A Public Improvement District, under which property owners in a defined zone agree to an assessment in addition to their property tax to pay for improvements, must be approved by the City Council and considered as part of the city’s budget process.

“We don’t know if we’re going to do it again,” Blake said in an interview with the Business Press. “What we’re doing is beginning this conversation again.”

Generally, a Cultural District improvement district would extend from West Fifth Street south to Lancaster Avenue, west to University Drive, and east to the Trinity River. It would take in part of West Seventh Street. Museums and the University of North Texas would not be included because they don’t pay property tax.

Blake cited downtown’s Public Improvement District – formed in 1986 and since expanded to 335 blocks – as a model. Property owners pay 10 cents per $100 of assessed value above their property taxes.

The county collects the assessment and sends it to the city, which contracts with Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. to provide maintenance and landscaping, extra security, promotions and special events, marketing and communication, transportation and planning, and research.

“Downtown Fort Worth is renowned for having enough services over what the city of Fort Worth can provide,” Blake said.

The Cultural District assessment proposed last year would have been 10 cents per $100 of appraised value, according to Jack Thompson, president of Orasi Development in Fort Worth and an alliance board member.

The improvement district would have generated about $550,000 per year, said Thompson, who led the alliance’s effort to secure a PID.

For a Public Improvement District to be created under state law, the alliance needed 50 percent of the signatures of property owners, but “we were in the 35 percent range,” Thompson said, estimating there were a “couple hundred” property owners in the proposed district.

The Cultural District Alliance has heard numerous ideas for extras that an improvement district could provide, Blake and Thompson said, including a staff member to write grant applications and run the daily business of the all-volunteer organization; more parking; security; cleanup and beautification; and sidewalk repairs.

“We just have trouble finding common ground” among property owners in the district, Blake said.

The disagreement came between large property owners and small and midsize property owners, Thompson said.

Small and midsize property owners wanted more centralized parking in the district, with a public transit circulator such as a shuttle, Thompson said. They also wanted more security, he said.

“The big guys already have parking and security,” he said.

For the big owners, “it’s hard to take on an additional tax, and it’s hard to justify that sometimes to your tenants,” Thompson said.

The alliance discussed parking options, including securing space in lots that aren’t used at night when the district’s restaurants and bars are crowded, Thompson said. The group also discussed nearby Farrington Field as a possibility for additional parking. A circulator would help get patrons into the heart of the district from the parking lots.

If the alliance can’t get agreement among enough property owners, it would consider carving the larger ones out of the district map and going with the smaller and midsize properties, Thompson said.

Making things more difficult in convincing property owners to go along: The PID petition cannot state specifically what services the district would provide. That would be the job of a district board created by the city.

Regardless of the outcome of the PID conversation, alliance board members want to find a way this year to bring on a full-time staff member, Blake said.

In remarks at the alliance dinner, Dr. Michael Williams, president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, reiterated the importance of bringing a medical school to the city.

“In one of the most dynamic growth areas in the United States, there’s absolutely a need for another medical school,” Williams said.

He cited one key statistic: “Eighty percent of physicians end up practicing in a 50-mile radius from where they did their residency.”
 

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