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Property owners eye Downtown Lodi improvement district

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Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:41 am, Tue Feb 7, 2012.

While walking through Downtown Lodi on Monday afternoon, business owner John Graffigna and Downtown Lodi Business Partnership Executive Director Jaime Watts occasionally stopped to point out where paint had almost completely chipped off lamp posts and dirt had discolored the sidewalks.

Graffigna, who owns Graffigna Fruit Company, and Watts are both in support of the formation of an improvement district to take care of a variety of maintenance issues in Downtown, including new coats of paint and power-washing the sidewalks.

"When you walk down the street or drive by it looks charming, but if you really look, it needs a lot of (tender loving care). ... It's the little details. If you power-washed everything, got the lights working and put plants in the pots, it would make a world of difference," Watts said.

A group of Downtown property owners are considering forming a Property and Business Improvement District, or a PBID. The district would consist of a group of property owners that vote to assess themselves an annual fee and then use the money to make improvements in Downtown.

The money is managed through a non-profit board made up of the property owners who have full control over how the money is spent, Watts said. It can go for regular maintenance, improved security, capital improvement projects or marketing the district.

The city, which owns property throughout Downtown, will also be required to pay an assessment, Watts said.

Property owners plan to hold a meeting on Thursday to share what type of projects they would want the PBID to do in Downtown. They are working with Civitas, a Sacramento-based consulting firm, to learn about the process to create the district.

The owners will likely decide at this meeting whether there is enough support to hire Civitas and move forward with the process, Watts said. She estimates it will cost about $100,000 to establish the district.

"The whole process is flexible," she said. "We are custom designing a plan that will work for everybody in Downtown."

John Della Monica, who owns DellaMonica Snyder Architects on Pine Street, said he knows many of the property owners would like to see uniform signage directing tourists from the highways to Downtown.

Della Monica also would like to see some of the improvements, like the sidewalks on School Street, expanded to other streets like Pine and Sacramento. He said it will make all of Downtown feel more integrated.

"It will just make it more viable in terms of the downtown core. Great downtowns have solid cores, but they also have the ancillary places tied to them, which makes walking around really nice," Della Monica said.

Della Monica said the appeal of the PBID is that the property owners will have full control over the money.

All of the property owners that assessed themselves to conduct the original Downtown improvements about 15 years ago finished paying their assessment in September, city spokesman Jeff Hood said.

The idea for a PBID originally started in 2006 with former City Manager Blair King, who suggested it as a way of keeping up with maintenance, Watts said. She often hears that the city of Lodi or the DLBP should pay for maintenance in Downtown, but the reality is that they do not have the money, Watts said.

Hood said it is up to the property owners if they want to create the district, and that it would pay for more services than the city can afford.

"The level of service in Downtown would be significantly higher than in other parts of the city where those amenities don't exist," he said.

One option on the table is that the property owners could decide to take on some of the tasks of the DLBP and the two could gradually merge into one organization, Watts said. The two organizations could also co-exist, she said, depending on what plan emerges.

The PBID would provide a more stable source of funding than the DLBP, Watts said. One of the main reasons is because business owners often will not pay their assessment if they are going out of business, while property owners are forced to pay regardless of whether they have tenants in the building.

The city also is required to pay a set amount for its properties, as opposed to now, where the Lodi City Council decides every year how much to give the DLBP. Since the DLBP was founded in 1998, the city's funding for the organization has been slashed in half, Watts said. Donations and sponsorships have also drastically shrunk with the economy.

"It needs to be done. There was a huge investment in Downtown, and for us to let it go is reckless and irresponsible," Watts said.

PBIDs have been used in a variety of districts, including small towns or large cities with hundreds of businesses, Civitas project manager Verna Sulpizio said. The goal of the districts is to go above and beyond what city services can provide, Sulpizio said.

"City budgets can fluctuate. While they are required to give a certain amount of services to an area, that can change year-to-year. PBIDs give property owners more control over what type of services their area receives," Sulpizio said.

Because property owners create the district, as opposed to business owners, there is usually uniform vision, she said.

"Property owners can look through a longer lens and think longer-term for the district, as opposed to a merchant who is looking for their next sale," Sulpizio said.

For Graffigna, whose family has owned property in Downtown for 60 years, the main concern is making sure that Downtown remains viable for business owners and customers.

"Keeping Downtown clean promotes business and can help us rent out some of the empty spaces. ... We need to make things a little more inviting for people to come down," he said.

Watts said that improving Downtown's appearance it will also help with local events.

"We spend all this time and energy putting on events, and we need to make sure the backdrop is beautiful," she said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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