Sidney town council continues to hear from business owners lining up in support of what they are calling the only option to save their shops from trying economic times.
Town staff have been tasked by council with creating a business improvement area (BIA) bylaw and plan for an alternate approval process. This was done after the Sidney Business Development Group (SBDA) asked council to proceed on Nov. 19. The SDBA were granted just over $18,000 from the town’s economic development budget to conduct a study into an umbrella marketing plan. They came up with a BIA idea and are now asking the Town of Sidney to run a counter-petition and, if that is successful, put it into place.
In the meantime, business owners continue to offer their support to the BIA concept and are doing it in a public way, speaking directly to council.
“There is no plan B,” said Susan Simosko, a Sidney-based consultant. “There’s no other way to create or follow through for a new vision for downtown Sidney.”
She spoke Monday night, adding her support to the BIA concept, as did another three people.
“A BIA is fair to all business people,” Simosko continued. “Some people will simply never go for it, no matter what, but they aren’t coming forward with any other ideas.”
Of prime concern to Simosko and other owners, is the recent spate of store closures in Sidney. For a variety of reasons, there have been some shops that have been shuttered, and the number 40 has been tossed around as the number of empty storefronts in town.
“These recent closures are just the tip of the iceberg,” Simosko said, adding anecdotally she has heard from others holding on by their fingernails.
“Facing rent increases and narrow margins, I feel more businesses will eventually close.”
While a BIA would add more costs to doing business in downtown Sidney, its potential for leveraging more customers outweighs the expense, say proponents.
Simply put, a BIA collects fees from participating members, creating a marketing budget for a specific area. Members of a BIA board (in this case, all business within the BIA boundary are eligible) direct that marketing effort, with the hope of attracting more customers.
“Businesses are struggling in this economy, not just the ones along Beacon Avenue,” says Steve Duck, owner of the Tides Group and who has been leading the SBDG effort on the BIA.
Duck and Cliff McNeil-Smith have been the spokespeople for the SBDG on the BIA proposal and have seen support grow in recent weeks. They are continuing their effort to pull more business owners into the fold and explain the BIA, its costs and marketing power — all in advance of town council proceeding with a counter-petition at the request of the SBDG.
If council give the process the green light, business and commercial property owners in the downtown area will have to vote ‘no’ on a BIA to prevent it. If they do nothing, and the counter-petition does not see a majority say ‘no’, then the BIA would be put into effect.
The SBDG is hoping their efforts to educate people about the benefits of a BIA will win the day.
If successful, a BIA would collect $250,000 in fees in its first year. Added to associate memberships and partnerships, the SBDG is looking at a startup budget of approximately $317,000. Some $185,000 of that, they say, will be spend on marketing Sidney. In place for a five-year term and renewable by its members, the BIA hopes to collect $250,000 each year. The levy, set at $1.22 per $1,000 of assessed value for class six commercial properties, can be adjusted by BIA members.