Commission moves forward on Wilton Drive Business Improvement District

With little money left for parking improvements along Wilton Drive, commissioners have approved another source of funding: property owners along the street.

On Oct. 28, commissioners unanimously voted to establish the Wilton Drive Business Improvement District [BID]. A second and final vote will most likely occur at the Nov. 11 meeting.

Under the BID, property owners along Wilton Drive would pay an increased millage rate under a special assessment. The exact details have not been finalized yet. “One of the things we have to determine is how the assessment is created,” said Randy Welker, economic development coordinator.

That additional money, perhaps as much as $100,000 per year, could be used for capital improvements, such as improved public parking, marketing to attract tourists and pedestrian improvements. Only retail and commercial properties would be assessed. City parks and facilities, including city hall, and condo/apartment units would be exempt. A BID was suggested for Andrews Avenue but officials say property owners there are not as enthusiastic about the idea as those on Wilton Drive.

Although parking is the biggest problem specific to businesses on Wilton Drive, it’s usually only a problem at night. Dominated by bars and restaurants, which create the greatest demand for parking at night, officials have previously said they want to attract more daytime businesses.

Overseeing the BID would be a board of directors made up of five members – three property owners and two tenants. Members would be appointed to three-year terms. A non-voting member, a resident who lives near Wilton Drive, will also be appointed to the board as a liaison between the BID and the surrounding neighborhoods. The board would be selected by the commission and would need commission approval to incur any debt.

“You’re creating a separate government authority,” said City Attorney Kerry Ezrol.

Vice Mayor Julie Carson said it was important to have a non-voting member on the board because any improvements to Wilton Drive could have an impact on the surrounding area. Paul Rolli, Central Area Neighborhood Association president, urged commissioners to appoint someone from the CANA area as the non-voting member.

Once activated, the BID board would be subject to Florida’s Sunshine Law. Meetings would have to be held and open to the public. According to Ezrol, the board would not be able to make its first assessment until 2016.

Commissioners discussed limiting the assessment rate the BID board could pass, but City Manager Joseph Gallegos advised against it. “Why would you want to limit what [property owners] want to do? It’s like shooting yourself in the foot.”

In December 2011, the commission approved borrowing $1.1 million specifically for parking near or on Wilton Drive. Most of it, $788,000, was spent on the 42-space parking lot at Northeast 8 Terrace and Northeast 26 Street. The original estimate for the parking lot was $650,000. City staff said the costs increased after their initial estimate. City commissioners defended the purchase and development of the lot as necessary because the private sector has not created enough parking to meet the demand of local businesses.