Journal and Courier: May 20, 2006

Downtown's owners to have a voice

By Curt Slyder
cslyder@journalandcourier.com

Chris Brown owns two buildings on Main Street in Lafayette.

Though he hasn't looked at it yet, he plans to fill out a survey city officials sent him a few days ago.

The city's Redevelopment Department recently mailed 242 surveys to downtown property owners, residents and businesses. The idea is to let the people decide what the city should focus on for downtown Lafayette's future, including ways to fund future improvements.

"It sounds like an excellent idea," Brown said.

"I think it's important that government continues to solicit input from its citizens," Mayor Tony Roswarski said. Letting downtown stakeholders help make key decisions about the downtown's future will help ensure the city does things the right way, he said.

Dennis Carson, the city's redevelopment director, said his office came up with the questions, which range from parking and safety issues to marketing and development issues.

The survey also gives people a chance to help determine how downtown improvements should be funded, Carson said.

The 24-question survey is spread out over eight pages.

"We have the Central TIF District," Carson said. "But there's a limited amount of things it can pay for."

When a municipality creates a TIF, or Tax Increment Financing, district, the district's assessed property value is measured that year. Every year after that, new property taxes within the district go into a special fund.

TIF funds can be used for roads and sewers, to help finance new construction or in any other way that directly benefits the district.

The Central TIF District encompasses most of downtown Lafayette.

The survey lists several potential funding mechanisms for people to consider, including the possible creation of a Business Improvement District, or BID.

A BID is a self-imposed and self-governed area in which some property taxes are set aside, Carson said. Taxpayers in the area decide how to use that money.

Indiana has very few BIDs. But they are popular in other areas around the country, particularly downtown areas, Carson said.

"We're not trying to push any one idea on anybody," Roswarski said, noting there's even space for people to recommend their own ways to fund downtown improvements.

As of Friday, the city had received about 50 completed surveys back, Carson said. His office is asking for all the surveys to be returned by June 1.

Purdue University's STATCOM, a volunteer statistical service, will compile the data to be used to help determine the course of future downtown improvements.

"I do think organizing downtown as an entity is important," Brown said. The Business Improvement District idea intrigued him, but he wanted to look at the survey before deciding what type of funding mechanism he would support. "There are a lot of things to consider," he said.

"We hope people will take the time to fill them out and send them back in," Roswarski said. "We really, really need the input."