Downtown springs ‘back to real life’
Citing Peace Plaza’s success, merchants applaud special fee
By Jeffrey Pieters
A fee charged to downtown Rochester businesses to support revitalizing public places in the city core might be extended beyond its original five-year life.
The special service district fee, enacted in 2005, is due to expire Dec. 31, 2010.
With the widely acknowledged success of the Peace Plaza expansion and renovation finished this year, officials will discuss whether to extend the fee period for downtown businesses.
The city has until June 30 to decide whether to renew the fee.
The merchants have the power to overturn the fee, which collected $150,000 in its first year, 2006, and was scheduled to rise by 5 percent each year after that.
The fee is based on a percentage of property value, just as property taxes are. The business owners’ contribution is matched by $75,000 apiece from Mayo Clinic and city taxpayers.
Sandy Keith, who heads the Rochester Downtown Alliance, said most of the downtown business owners he’s talked to "are very much in favor of continuing it."
One person Keith talked with is Don Hadley, owner of O&B Shoes at 100 First Ave. S.W., who said he was apprehensive about the fee when it was imposed. Since then, his store has posted record sales three years in a row.
The revitalization efforts have been "bringing a semi-dead town back to real life," said Hadley, who supports continuing the fee.
So does Bruce Fairchild, regional director of operations of Sunstone Hotels, which owns the Kahler Grand. "I am absolutely in favor of extending it," Fairchild said. "I think they’ve done a great job so far, but I think there’s still work to be done."
Formal discussions about the fee haven’t begun yet at City Hall, said Doug Knott, the city’s development director, but he makes the case for extending it.
"No shopping center would market itself for five years ... and quit advertising," he said. "I think there’s an acknowledgment that something like this is needed. If people agree, then it will continue."