Could the Sarasota DID Expand its Reach?

Todays News

Sarasota’s Downtown Improvement District has existed for more than a decade. Is it time to expand its reach? The board of directors for the city entity will discuss the matter at a meeting on Tuesday.

John Moran, operations manager for the Sarasota DID, said district was created by the Sarasota City Commission and ultimately it would be a decision by that elected board what happens next. But following a request by the mayor’s office, DID officials will explore a number of possibilities for the Commission to consider.

Originally created in 2008, the DID since that time has funded downtown improvements including landscaping, lighting of trees during the holiday season and organizing promotions. The resources behind that come from a 2-mill property tax on all non-residential property in a an area bound primarily by Palm and Goodrich avenues on the east and west and by Second Street and Ringling Boulevard on the north and south, with some deviations around the edges to include or exclude various properties.

Robert Gibbs, a downtown expert hired by the city years ago to recommend investment strategies in the urban core, suggested the true bounds of the working downtown run are contained by Tamiami Trail and Washington Boulevard on the east and west, and Ringling and Fruitville Road on the north and south. So the DID will explore potentially moving the borders to those streets.

But Moran notes that when the DID formed in 2008, an effort which he helped lead at the time, the Commission wanted a survey that showed a majority of property owners impacted favored self-taxation to see improvements. A survey of the carefully selected retail core for downtown found two-thirds support at the time. “That informal evidence enabled the City Commission to approve the creation of the DID,” he said. 

While Moran isn’t sure that the same effort and findings would occur today, it’s likely any expansion of DID borders would again require a demonstration of support among those who could end up paying a new tax.

“Probably the best occurrence could be a request by those in the expanded area to request joining the DID,” he said. He knows some property owners just outside the district have expressed interest in the past after asking about expanding tree lighting to their businesses and learning the program by law had to be contained within the DID boundaries.

Moran notes the tax structure for the DID could always change. The DID board in 2009 voted upon its formation to enact the maximum allowable property rate under the state statute governing its powers. But there are some similar improvement districts in Florida that tax residential property. Regardless, a broader tax base with the expansion of the district may enable the DID to achieve its goals with a lower millahe and allow for a lower tax rate, something which could result in a new tax on new properties but relief for those already paying into DID coffers.

It’s also quite possible, Moran said, that some districts on the outskirts of any proposed expansion won’t have any interest in becoming part of the district and absorbing a new tax. Moran recalls as far back as 1999, the late downtown advocate Paul Thorpe sought to create a similar taxing district but met resistance from those on the edges of downtown who did believe they would see a benefit. 

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