As city officials still look into the possibility of generating more money for Wilton Drive, the way to spend it may have already been decided: more parking.
Parking has been a problem on Wilton Drive for more than a decade, especially on the north side of the street toward Five Points. “It’s good to have a parking problem [people are coming here to patronize our businesses], but by the same token you want to find ways to satisfy the parking needs,” said Randy Welker, economic development coordinator.
To raise the money to provide more parking, officials want to designate Wilton Drive as a Business Improvement District [BID]. That would allow them to charge property owners along Wilton Drive up to an additional 2 mills per year in property taxes. “It would be like a special assessment,” said Randy Welker, economic development coordinator. The money generated could be as much as $100,000 a year for 10 years. Other issues facing Wilton Drive, said Welker, include attracting more retailers so that the street isn’t just bars and restaurants. BID money from Wilton Drive could only be used for that street.
Welker said property owners have already been surveyed and given their “overwhelming acceptance.” Now, the issue will go before the city commission after city staff figures out how to proceed under state law.
Welker said the board, made up of commercial property owners and tenants, would be strong but the city commission would make the final decision on how funding would be spent.
Nick Berry disagrees.
Berry, co-owner of Shawn and Nick’s Courtyard Café and Rumors Bar and Grill, both on Wilton Drive, supports a BID for the street – but only if the board gets the final say in how money is spent. “The money’s coming from people volunteering to pay extra in taxes. It cannot be government-controlled. It has to be that way or I wouldn’t be in favor of it.”
Berry favors using the money to fund the Two-Lane Initiative, a proposal that entails reducing the number of lanes on Wilton Drive from four to two. In essence, supporters of the Two-Lane Initiative want to reshape Wilton Drive into the next Las Olas – parking on the outside lanes, landscaping and trees in the median. Berry said it would provide 126 parking spaces on the street and make it safer for pedestrians.
“They could have used that [$788,000 they spent on the 42-space parking lot at Northeast 26 Street and Northeast 8 Terrace] for Wilton Drive.” At the ribbon cutting for the lot in April, Mayor Gary Resnick said the money spent on buying the land for the parking lot and paving it was “inordinate” but necessary to provide badly needed parking.
Berry also wants to see the BID formed as a public/private partnership, with the city funding legal fees, staff time any other expenses associated with running the board and managing the account. “The city should [commit] its resources,” he said.
A BID was suggested for Andrews Avenue but Welker says the property owners there want to see how Wilton Drive’s BID works before they commit to their own. Some ideas suggested for Andrews are lighting and streetscape improvements. Resnick suggested that BID money could be used to promote the Indian restaurants and businesses on North Andrews Avenue.