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Trends and Strategies in Urban Assessment Districts
Business improvement districts and other assessment districts used to administer districts that were virtually empty on weekends and evenings. As these districts become denser with residents, their roles—and the expectations of them—are changing. For example, place making is becoming increasingly important, writes district consultant Marco Li Mandri who has formed over 80 assessment districts and whose company, New City America, manages many of these districts. Additionally, he believes the concept of a business improvement district has become outdated and is being replaced by community benefit districts.
He writes that the key to success for these districts is found in three principles:
- One must have a clearly identified place to be re-invented or re-created. The place must have set boundaries, a set name, and ideally a rich history – even though much of it might have been lost over the last generation.
- Stakeholders must have financial independence and stability. Attempting to revitalize or re-invent a place without control over an independent sustainable budget will ultimately result in missed opportunities or failure. The financial independence normally is reliant upon a sustainable assessment district revenue generated from benefiting property owners in the district.
- The place and financial mechanism must be managed by an entrepreneurial district management corporation in the form of a nonprofit public benefit organization. Too many BIDs or Community Benefit Districts are operating on property assessments alone. The truly successful district management corporation is one that uses its assessments to leverage other public and private grants and matches its sustainable revenues with donations, contributions and underwrites. The district management corporation must be governed by a combination of strong board/strong staff that is results, not process, oriented. It must not necessarily be guided by a long-term plan, but rather, it must be able to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities that emerge from the dynamics of that new developing place.