Downtown alliance renews district
Two Rochester businesses, both on the east side of the city's downtown river divide, have landed on opposite sides of a special service district issue.
The Rochester Downtown Alliance on Monday evening won approval from the Rochester City Council to renew its service district for 10 years. The alliance levies a tax on businesses in a 44-block downtown area and provides events and programming to promote those businesses and the city.
When the renewal goes into effect Jan. 1, one new business, Roscoe's Root Beer and Ribs , will be added to the service district, and its owner is happy about that. Another business, Honest Bike Shop , will remain in the district, though its owner has lobbied relentlessly to be exempted.
Steven Ross, who with his wife Barbara owns and operates Roscoe's Root Beer and Ribs, is excited to be a part of the downtown alliance. His business, on Fourth Street Southeast, across the Zumbro River and Bear Creek from the downtown core, has always felt like "downtown," he said.
"We've been in business for 35 years and I've always really kind of considered ourselves somewhat of a downtown location," Ross said.
Ross is looking forward to increased access to Rochester Downtown Alliance events, including Thursdays on First & Third.
"I also look forward to getting involved with some of the other things that the RDA does to bring people to the downtown area, and to, obviously, get business from things at the civic center and be more involved in the RDA," Ross said.
However, Paul Mhyrom, owner of Honest Bike Shop, at 44 Fourth St. SE, just east of the Fourth Street bridge, has no interest in participating in downtown alliance events. He has petitioned to be exempted from the district, but without success.
"That river is a natural barrier," Myhrom said of the Zumbro and the bridge that separates his shop from downtown events. The barrier also keeps the benefits of the downtown alliance far from his business, Myhrom said.
The city council voted Monday to accept a proposed boundary map along with the Rochester Downtown Alliance's service district renewal. That map was altered slightly to include Roscoe's, which was a few hundred feet from the boundary. The council could have easily removed the Honest Bike Shop property from the map in the process, Myhrom said.
"At the time that they proposed this new district, or this extension of the district, while including Roscoe's they could have omitted mine," Myhrom said. "I'm right on the fringe. It's not like we're doing it in spots … I am right there on the very edge."
The process to remove a property from the district would be identical to the process the downtown alliance pursued to renew the district, according to Terry Spaeth, city redevelopment director.
The RDA and its board of directors has not pursued that process to exempt a property based on a board vote and past city council leadership.
"We did support adding (a business), but we did not necessarily support taking anything away — that was our vote," said Dan Aguilar, RDA board chairman, at Monday's city council meeting.
RDA Executive Director Jenna Bowman said the board's vote was a reflection of city council leadership.
"The city council is the one who has upheld the leadership of maintaining the 44-block area and not allowing a property to opt out," Bowman said.
Council members discussed a process that could allow properties to opt out, but the city's statute governing special service districts was clear — only a full series of public hearings and a council decision would allow a boundary change.
Council Member Nick Campion supported the downtown alliance board's choice to maintain the 44-block district.
"Ultimately, I feel like this is something we need to lean into a little bit to say the good work that the organization does is worth obligating people to pay for," Campion said.
Bowman emphasized the alliance's recent work to increase communication and collaboration with stakeholders and business owners. The alliance's programming is not tied to a geographic area, she said.
"As far as what we do as an organization, our programming, … we work really hard to try to provide benefit to all of the businesses that reside within the district," Bowman said.
But Myhrom was firm in his stance, saying the RDA has provided no benefit to his business and the added tax was unwelcome.
"It doesn't matter if it's 25 cents or $25,000. I'm paying a tax for something I receive no benefit for, and that's the point," he said.