Property owners gathered Thursday night to discuss what projects they would like to see paid for by a proposed property improvement district and also share some of their concerns.
About 20 of the approximately 70 Downtown property owners listed their goals for the new business district that included everything from tree lighting, to alleyway cleanup, to directional signage to get people to Downtown.
The owners are considering forming a Property and Business Improvement District, or a PBID. The district would consist of a group of property owners who vote to assess themselves an annual fee and then use the money to make improvements in Downtown.
The property owners voted maintenance and beautification as their top concerns.
The city and property owners teamed up to revitalize Downtown more than a decade ago. Property owners are now saying there needs to be some maintenance to keep it looking nice, like fresh coats of paints and powerwashing for the sidewalks.
“We’ve deferred this maintenance long enough. We need to start making it look more clean and inviting to our customers,” Downtown property owner Dave Kirsten said.
The meeting started with at least one couple who own property in Downtown stating they were not in favor of creating the district.
Ronald and Connie Riggs said they were frustrated that they were not informed of the original meeting to discuss the district, and believe that the district will be formed regardless of whether property owners want it or not.
Kirsten, who hosted the meeting at his office in Downtown, asked the Riggs to wait until after they heard all of the information to voice their concerns. When they continued to voice their disapproval, Kirsten asked them to leave.
“You are railroading this through. You are asking us to leave because we are trying to object to it,” Ronald Riggs said.
The Riggs ended up staying for half the meeting. Ronald Riggs said he is frustrated that the money business and property owners have paid for various revitalization efforts in the past has always been focused on School Street, leaving other parts of Downtown, specifically Sacramento Street, in disrepair.
“All of these things have ignored the problems on Sacramento Street. Until you fix Sacramento Street, nothing is going to change,” he said.
Downtown Lodi Business Partnership Executive Director Jaime Watts and Civitas project manager Verna Sulpizio answered questions from the property owners about how to form a district. They estimated it would cost $100,000 to hire Civitas, establish the district and pay for the first year’s expenses.
Sulpizio said it was impossible for the district to be “railroaded through” because 50 percent of the property owners in the district have to vote in favor for it to be established.
Dan Ingrum, owner of Danz Jewelers, said the best part of the district is that it is in their control.
“The property owners truly run this. They put the money in and they decide how the money is going to be spent,” Ingrum said.
Farmers & Merchants Bank Senior Vice President Jay Colombini said the incentive to property owners is they would be able to charge more for rent when they renew their leases with tenants in a few years if Downtown Lodi is an area where customers want to come because it is beautiful and well-maintained.
“You can look at other areas, like Stockton. Maybe if some areas had done improvements ahead of time, they would be able to charge higher rents,” he said.
Colombini said he is not sure if the bank supports a PBID yet. He feels that there has been “incorrect money management” by the city that has resulted in the city’s responsibilities in Downtown being unfunded.
“Does that mean we are against this? I don’t know. It just leaves a bad taste in our mouth,” Colombini said.
He specifically said the city has not reigned in the high costs of retirement benefits for city employees.
“Is the city there for employees or are they there for the citizens?” he said.
Kirsten said that the Downtown is looking less attractive every day and that everyone has ignored the maintenance long enough. He said it is important to find a way to fund improvements, so that when the economy does turn around shoppers and businesses will flock to Downtown.
“You take a risk, you take a chance. I want to maintain the asset and I want to do whatever we can within reasonable boundaries,” he said.
Gregory and Carol Soligan, who own multiple properties in Downtown, said they need more information before making a decision.
“If it’s just for the beautification, cleanup and security in Downtown, then that’s doable. ... We’ve got to know what the parameters are before we can say if we want to move forward,” he said.
As she was leaving the meeting, Connie Riggs said she has two tenants that owe her tens of thousands of dollars, and she cannot afford any type of assessment.
Riggs said he feels like not all of the property owners will have an equal voice when it comes time to form a PBID.
“It depends on who you are, how many votes you get and if you go along with us and the plan, you’ll get more votes,” he said.