Downtown district now a step closer

NASHUA – An aldermanic committee on Monday pushed forward plans to create a special district that would tax downtown property owners to pay for marketing, enhanced snow and trash removal and other improvements.

The board of aldermen’s planning and economic development committee voted 5-0 to recommend the creation of a services advisory committee that would govern a Business Improvement District, or BID.

But the vote came after two aldermen peppered some downtown officials and business owners about the concept. Also, aldermen amended the makeup of the advisory committee so that one of the seven initial members would be an alderman appointed by the board president.

At least five of the other members would be owners or tenants of properties in the downtown district.

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, though supporting the advisory committee, said he worried that not enough downtown property owners and merchants had been asked if they thought a special tax was a good idea.

However, the board of aldermen must approve the budget before the tax is levied and would have control over whether to create the district after the advisory committee did the legwork of recommending how it would be established, the group of downtown officials said.

Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said downtown merchants were behind the push for creating the BID, rather than it being dictated from City Hall.

In a Business Improvement District, property owners pay a small tax, with the proceeds used for maintenance, marketing and other purposes within the district. The services advisory committee, made in part of the property owners, decides where the money is spent.

A BID would focus on maintenance, marketability, promotion and economic development in the downtown area. A BID along Elm Street in Manchester that eventually grew to encompass the mill area is credited with helping to revitalize that city’s downtown.

One example of where the money collected through a tax on property owners might help the downtown is in removing snow and shoveling sidewalks.

In Nashua, Great American Downtown has been spearheading the push to create a BID, and a committee of city staff, elected officials, businessmen and property owners has been meeting for a year to plan the district.

An initial recommendation is for the BID to extend from the Hunt Community north along Main Street to the Hunt Memorial Building, and then a block or two, east and west.

Within those boundaries, nonprofit organizations would be exempt from the tax, which would be roughly .95 cents to $1.10 per $1,000 of property value.
The budget would be roughly $165,000 a year.

Private homes and multifamily buildings of fewer than six tenants also would likely be exempt from the tax.

With the committee’s vote Monday, the full board of aldermen would now have to vote to establish the committee, a vote that could come later this month.

McCarthy said after the meeting that appointments to the seven-member panel would likely be made by this fall so it could begin its work to have the BID established in the next budget cycle.

Scott Cote, associate vice president for facilities and emergency preparedness at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, led the presentation to the aldermanic committee.

Cote was joined by Rich Lannan, a downtown property owner; Michael Buckley, owner of Michael Timothy’s and Surf restaurants downtown; Terry Williams, GAD president and publisher of The Telegraph; and Sue Butler, GAD executive director.

“What problem are you attempting to solve with a BID?” Ward 1 Alderman Mark Cookson asked.

Cookson participated in the discussion but isn’t a voting member of the planning and economic development committee.

Buckley said a BID wouldn’t fix one specific problem, but would build on the strength of downtown.

A downtown that remains stagnant will deteriorate, and “before you know it, it’s too late,” Lannan said.

McCarthy said Nashua’s downtown improved dramatically following the recession of the mid-1990s, and a BID could help it do the same as the economy comes out of the current recession.

“Downtown now looks remarkably better and remarkably more occupied than in the mid-90s,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think we should forget that.”

A decade ago, business owners like Buckley, who opened Michael Timothy’s on a block that was largely vacant, “stuck their necks out and stuck their wallets out to make that happen,” McCarthy said.

A BID could help current merchants build about those improvements to create a more vibrant downtown, he said.