Getting Closer

By ANTHONY WARREN,

City to set vote for Fondren Business Improvement District

The Fondren business community is one step closer to having a new way to fund beautification, security and other public improvements that cannot be paid for by local government.

Last week, a hearing was held before the Jackson City Council to discuss creating the Fondren Business Improvement District, or Fondren BID.

The council is expected to schedule an election for the bid at its September 25 meeting.

The district will be only the second one in the state, outside the district that serves downtown Jackson.

The hearing was a major step in seeing the district come to fruition.

However, several more steps must be taken before the BID is established.

Up next, the council will have to set an election date, and from there, business and property owners in the proposed BID’s boundaries will have to vote.

Northside council members Virgi Lindsay and Ashby Foote support the measure.

“When an area has the ability to assess itself to pay for things to enhance and beautify the area, they should (do it),” Lindsay said. “It’s good for the area and the city as a whole.”

To pass, a 60 percent supermajority will have to cast ballots in favor of the plans, according to officials in the city clerk’s office.

Fondren Renaissance Foundation (FRF) board president Lisa Wigington is optimistic business owners would be willing to sign on.

“We had an open meeting previously and invited all the property owners to come,” she said. “We had a great response. We haven’t had any negative responses.”

The BID must be voted on affected

See Fondren BID, Page 6A

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property owners, because it would mean additional property taxes for business owners.

Funds brought in through the tax would go into a special fund for use specifically in the district.

The district will be bordered by Lakeland Drive at I-55 on the east, Oxford Avenue between Hartfield and Taylor drives on the west, the intersection of North State Street and Old Canton Road on the south and the visual line of Hartfield and Glenway Drive on the north, according to a letter from FRF Executive Director Jim Wilkirson.

One-hundred and fifty parcels are located within the proposed area, 47 of which would be tax-exempt. The proposed rate of taxation would be eight cents per square foot of land and eight cents per square foot of building, the letter reads.

Broken down, a business owner with a 1,000-square-foot building on approximately 2,000 square feet of land would be assessed for an extra $240 a year in property taxes. 

The assessment would be collected by the county tax collector annually. Early estimates show the BID will generate about $235,000 a year, Wigington said.

Residences, state and federally owned properties and other tax-exempt parcels within the BID would not be assessed.

 

FRF has been working to establish the district for at least a couple of years.

“A big driver was that the sidewalk grant had come to fruition and construction was going to be completed this year, along with new landscaping, and we had no way of funding maintenance,” Wigington said. “Along with that, there will be other projects we can do, such as increasing security and promoting economic development.

“We have done great things in Fondren and want to continue doing those things,” she said.

One of Fondren Business District’s biggest property owners told the Sun previously that he was 100 percent behind the proposal.

Mike Peters, who owns Fondren Corner, Duling School, the Bank Plus building and others, said he’d likely be taxed the most with the creation of the BID, but believes the extra assessment would be worth it. “I look at it as money I’m spending to keep my properties economically viable,” he said.

FRF has spearheaded efforts and has worked with Downtown Jackson Partners and students enrolled in the Millsaps College Else School of Management.

DJP is the nonprofit that oversees the downtown BID.

“I’m glad they’re doing it. It’s a perfect fit for them,” said DJP President Ben Allen.

Associate Director John Gomez said DJP provides another layer of services for the area, including additional security, beautification and economic development.

“We work with property owners to attract developers to the area,” he said. “We market the area through some print and social media avenues and work with organizers of events to host festivals and concerts. We also have taken on a number of public improvement projects, including Smith Park.”

The second round of improvements at Smith Park wrapped up earlier this year. The work included removing the park’s inoperable water feature, adding new plantings, and replacing rotten wood on the stage deck and benches.

Under state law, BIDs must be re-approved by voters every 10 years. Last year, more than 95 percent of business owners in the 65-block downtown district voted to keep the area’s assessment in place.

 

Main objectives of the Fondren BID include public safety, landscaping and maintenance, economic development and marketing and wayfinding upgrades. Fifty percent of the budget, or $117,000, will go toward public safety; landscaping will take up 20 percent of the budget; while economic development and marketing and wayfinding will each receive 2.5 percent of the budget. The remaining 15 percent of BID funding will go toward administrative costs, according to Wilkirson’s letter.

“The ultimate goal is to provide a security service for the area that everyone is able to be a part of, rather than (businesses) having to do it individually on their own,” he said.

Funds will be placed in escrow until a board can be established.

While FRF is helping facilitate the implementation of the district, the BID will be governed by a separate board of directors made up of BID business owners.

That board, in turn, will decide whether an independent group like DJP needs to be hired to implement spending plans, Wigington said.

 

Voting for a BID

Rather than heading to the polls, voters casting ballots for the Fondren BID will vote by mail.

The Jackson City Council is expected to set an election for the BID at its meeting on September 25.

According to an official in the city clerk’s office, property owners in the bid will be mailed a paper ballot, which will include the date when the ballot must be returned. On that date, the city clerk’s office will count the votes, and release the results.

Sixty percent of participating voters must sign off on the BID for it to become official. If the BID is approved, the property tax would be implemented in early 2019.