The Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation plans to explore the possibility of creating a business improvement district in downtown Falmouth.
Marco Mandri, president of New City America, has overseen the creation of 89 such districts, including in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego. He described the benefits of these districts at the October 13 meeting of the EDIC.
Funded through a property tax assessment, property owners within a business improvement district pay toward improvements and amenities beyond what the city or town offers. Using Little Italy as an example, Mr. Mandri said those examples can include powerwashing the sidewalks, a valet service, dedicated landscaping and maintenance staff, public art, festivals and installing features like piazzas, monuments and public seating.
For a business improvement district to work, Mr. Mandri said, it needs a location, private funding and an independent board to oversee those funds. The independent board would be made up of property owners who pay the special tax assessment.
“The property owners and business owners in downtown might decide they need more than what the city of Falmouth is providing and may need to be more flexible and immediate in their responses to various situations,” he said. “They’d do that because they want greater control of what happens in the downtown. They also know they can’t do that unless they have the budget. A business improvement district creates our revenue flow, and the corporation works in cooperation with the city to help manage the downtown.”
Mr. Mandri said cooperation with town government is essential as this independent board would not have permitting authority, nor could it shut down the street for festivals or events. Government officials can have a voice on the independent board.
“If the city owns property in the downtown, and most do, and can own a lot of property in the downtown, they are on the board because they are a property owner, and not because they were appointed by city council members,” he said.
Frank Geishecker of the Falmouth Village Association asked what sort of teeth this independent board would have to ensure property owners pay the extra tax assessment.
“It is on the property tax bill, and because it is on the property tax bill, they are mandated to pay it,” Mr. Mandri said.
Ideally, he said, all those in the downtown would join the business improvement district. Noting such a district is in the works in New Bedford, he said Mayor Jon F. Mitchell, the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the YMCA have all committed to paying the assessment.
“They understood the value of everybody contributing, instead of having this sort of ‘Swiss cheese’ form of assessment district,” Mr. Mandri said. “It is really important you make it unified and make sure that everyone who is deriving the benefit pays into the district.”
Noting the discussion is in the beginning stages, corporation member Christopher R. Simmler described it as an idea worth exploring further. A next step would be discussing the idea with the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce and Falmouth Village Association.
Corporation member Michael B. Galasso, who owns property in Little Italy, said “it would be a great asset for us to have in downtown Falmouth.”
“It has been a great benefit to us when we started in Little Italy in 1982, and the growth there has been tremendous,” Mr. Galasso said. “The business owners and property owners are all very pleased with the results.”