An eight-month petition campaign to support the creation of a BIA (Business Improvement Area) plan for the international District has been successful. The Seattle City Council voted the BIA proposal into an ordinance unanimously on June 6, after a 12-member Interim Rate Payers Board obtained the required signatures of 65.6 percent of ID business and property owners.
A BIA will provide funds for such projects as cleaning up area streets and alleys, security, marketing and improving parking. Similar plans in Pioneer Square, Broadway, West Seattle and other neighborhoods have also been established.
Businesses in the ID will be assessed a tax, based on fair-share plan which will determine the rate structure for individual businesses and property owners. Two methods will be used to assess the amount of tax, based on size (square foot measurement) or gross income.
Owners in the ID can expect to be taxed in August or September. Most businesses will contribute $100 to $150 each year, providing approximately $138,000 for BIA projects. A special tax of $75 for family associations and an optional tax of $100 for non-profit organizations has also been included in the BIA.
The BIA was first proposed three years ago, after a group of owners began working with the Interim Community Development Association to come up with the plan.
The Interim Rate Payers Board will continue to run the BIA until a new 20—member board is formed in early August. Anyone owning a business or property in the ID is eligible to be on the board. The Chinatown Chamber of Commerce will act as fiscal sponsor of the BIA.
Cliff Louie, a planner at the International District Improvement Association who is serving as an interim director of the BIA, says he would like to see an ethnically diverse board which also represents the different types of businesses in the area.
A BIA will help preserve and promote the area to make it a better place for businesses and visitors, said May Wan, branch manager of Norwest Mortgage.
The first noticeable result of the BIA will be cleaner streets. Fourteen Summer Youth Employment workers recently began sweeping sidewalks in the ID. Each Wednesday, throughout the summer, the youths will be using brooms provided by the BIA for one and one-half hours of clean up.
“What the BIA plan does is provide more services,” say Michael Chu, owner of Hoven Foods. Chu would like to see garbage picked up twice a week, rather than once a week.
The effort to gather signatures from 65.5 percent of the 400 registered business and property owners was not easy for BIA organizers. JoAnne Yoshimoto, project manager for the BIA study and petition drive was hired to assist in establishing the plan. Her contract expired in February this year.
“As time progressed, it became more difficult. We went back to people who were reluctant. Those who were sitting on the fence were more difficult to convince,” Louie said.
Now that it has been passed, Louie says he would like to see the BIA “up and running.” After the board is formed, the by-laws need to be approved and an executive director must be hired.
The BIA will contract with the City to collect the taxes. The City will not, however, take a percentage for administering the tax.
“We invite anyone interested to participate and come to a meeting.” Wan said. “They should bring ideas and concerns to the meeting so we can set priorities.”
The BIA will be sharing office space in the basement of the Bush Asia Center with the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and a new Seattle Police Community Storefront operation. Grand opening for the combined offices is on July 8, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.