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Sunday, Aug 14, 2022
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BID

By HOWARD FINE

Staff Reporter

It’s the largest business improvement district in Southern California and has been up and running for two months, yet few people know of its existence.

Backers of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District hope to change that this week.

The district, which encompasses 65 downtown city blocks in the financial and retail districts from the Music Center to near the Convention Center, formally kicks off with a marketing campaign this week aimed at encouraging people to shop and locate their businesses in the area.

The message: Downtown is a clean, safe place for commerce. And to help make that promise a reality, Business Improvement District funds are being used to hire street and sidewalk cleaning crews with purple-painted sweepers, as well as extra security patrols for the area.

“This BID will change the perceptions people may have about downtown Los Angeles as a place to stay away from,” said Cindy Giordano, marketing director for Macy’s Plaza, at the corner of Flower and Seventh streets. “We want to show that downtown is a truly vibrant center. The biggest things we can do are clean up the streets, make people feel safer, and let people know that things are not as bad as they believe.”

The Downtown Center BID is bounded on the west by the Harbor Freeway, on the north by First Street, on the east by Hill and Main streets and on the south by Ninth Street and Olympic Boulevard. It includes Bunker Hill, the financial core and part of South Park.

It was approved last July by the City Council after 65 percent of the property owners within its boundaries voted to assess themselves a collective $3.2 million a year. It is the largest in the region in terms of total annual assessment, size (65 blocks), and square footage (68 million square feet).

Property owners began paying their assessments Jan. 1, and on Thursday Mayor Richard Riordan is scheduled to participate in a news conference to draw attention to the project.

Downtown Center organizers believe the BID can revitalize downtown in much the way that BIDs have revived downtowns in other cities like New York, Philadelphia and Houston.

“Places like Times Square in New York used to be avoided like the plague by tourists and people within the region; with BIDs, they are flourishing,” said Timothy Walker, Downtown Center BID chairman and a partner in developer Maguire Partners, which is the area’s largest landowner. “That’s what we hope to do here.”

Walker said one of biggest challenges in getting this BID approved was securing votes from foreign-based landowners.

“So many of the hotels and buildings within the BID boundaries are owned by investors in Asia and other far-flung places,” he said. “That’s where we relied on the local property managers and hotel general managers to sell their landlords on the idea.”

The BID has two assessment zones: a 6 cents-per-square-foot zone encompassing much of the financial district, and an 8 cents-per-square-foot zone to the south and east, where BID organizers plan to have additional cleaning and safety patrols.

The Downtown Center BID was one of six approved by the city last year, making it one of 11 active BIDs in L.A. Another 33 are in various stages of formation. However, many of them have stalled because they have failed to garner enough support from local businesses. Downtown Center supporters say a key reason why its BID has gotten off the ground is that it assesses property owners, not tenants or merchants.

“Merchants tend to have tight margins and are preoccupied with making sure their businesses survive. To them, a BID assessment is like another tax,” said Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Association and president of the downtown BID. “Property owners, on the other hand, tend to have deeper pockets and more of a stake in the long-term future of an area, which make them more willing to assess themselves.”

Backers are hoping that this BID will last longer than the previous one in the area, the so-called “Miracle on Broadway.” That merchant-based BID along a seven-block stretch of Broadway was formed in 1995, but lasted only a year as merchants voted against continuing to assess themselves.

A more successful downtown BID has taken root in the Fashion District, just to the east of the new central downtown BID. That BID was formed two years ago and is credited with reducing crime 20 percent within its boundaries.

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