Downtown Property Owners Putting Emphasis On Safety And Cleanliness
February 17, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Some downtown Hartford property owners
who are considering paying more for enhanced safety and sanitation
services want the city to do a better job of sweeping streets, emptying
litter bins and patrolling with police as part of the deal.
Discussions among property owners and
civic organizations on establishing what is called a "special
services district" for the downtown business area gained momentum
last spring and are continuing. Advocates of the district are hoping
to have one in place by July 1, officials said.
The goal is simple: Property owners
would tax themselves and pay more money for more enhanced services.
Many cities use such districts to improve services in downtown areas.
But as a sign of the city's commitment
to the neighborhood, some of the property owners are seeking greater
"A number of the folks on the
business side have indicated that, if we as property owners in the
downtown area are going to tax ourselves to provide better services,
we'd like to see the city raise the bar in terms of the services
it provides," said Lee C. Erdmann, the city's chief operating
So far, the city is cool to the idea.
Although Mayor Eddie A. Perez supports
the concept of a special services district, he's less enthusiastic
about having the city committing resources to one neighborhood in
return for the district's increased services.
"Is there a quid pro quo?"
asked Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff. "The answer is
no, because the whole purpose of the [district] is to enhance services
and have the members take on the responsibility."
Instead, Hennessy said, the city would
pledge to not decrease services to the neighborhood should the district
provide some of its own, and it would also consider improving its
current services in the broader context of a citywide effort to
improve safety, cleanliness and more.
"As mayor of the whole city, he
has to balance the significant needs in all of our neighborhoods,"
R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head
of the MetroHartford Alliance, acknowledged that some of the larger
property owners are looking for an incremental increase in city
services in exchange for their decision to tax themselves as part
of the special services district.
"I don't think there's a single
urban area in the country ... where all property owners feel they're
getting the bang for their buck," Griebel said. "I'm not
even sure that most suburbanites feel that.
"The question is whether or not
you can get to a point where everybody feels there's a good exchange,"
Backers of the district must get the
nod of the city council to hold a referendum of the district's property
owners. In order to pass, that referendum must get two majorities:
a majority of property owners must vote in favor of the plan, and
a majority of the owners who own half of the property value in the
district must vote in favor as well.
The annual operating budget for the
downtown district could be between $1 million and $1.5 million,
officials have said. The district has an assessed value of roughly
To date, the discussion among property
owners has been centered around a 1 mill increase, Griebel said,
adding that no decisions have been made.
When discussions started a year or
so ago, the odds were 20 to 80 against the district, Griebel said.
"Now we're flirting with 50/50," he said. The three priorities
would be enhanced security, both real and perceived; cleanliness;
and the promotion of downtown activities, he said.
Some property owners like the idea.
The district "would create a partnership
between the downtown stakeholders and the city," said Chuck
Coursey, a spokesman for Northland Investment Corp., downtown's
largest property owner. "It would improve the pedestrian experience,
cleanliness and safety of the urban core."
"Northland, as the largest private
property owner, is more than willing to participate," he said.
Not everyone is as enthusiastic.
"What's good for downtown is good
for everybody," said William H. Fenn, vice president of asset
management at the New Boston Fund, which is lukewarm about the district.
"The taxes in Hartford are
already exorbitant. While we all want better things for Hartford,
to continue with an additional tax above the already high mill rate
plus the 15 percent surcharge to cover for the shortfall in the
residential tax - it's difficult for landlords to continue,"
he said. "[Especially] with such high operation costs in a
market that hasn't seen rent escalation and has seen continued escalation
of operating expenses."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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