City dissolves business improvement district

Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

The Sandpoint Business Improvement District is no more.

Council members decided Wednesday to dissolve the district, which collected fees from downtown businesses, and release members from payment obligations. It closes the book on a program with an increasingly troubled management situation over the past few years.

“(This) puts the onus on businesses to either reestablish the BID or go without,” said Councilman Bob Camp.

Council members faced one of two options when determining the fate of the BID: They could either end it altogether or maintain its boundaries but bring its payments down to zero. Ultimately, members chose to end the program altogether, since many who complained about the BID said the boundaries felt arbitrary, benefiting some businesses more than others.

It’s a decision that likely will not be celebrated across the board. Councilwoman Deb Ruehle voted against the measure, saying she’d been approached by many business owners who wanted to keep the BID.

“I feel like they deserve at least one vote in their direction,” she said.

The decision is the culmination of a lengthy public engagement process to establish a consensus on the BID. It began last year with a survey managed by Boise State University students that invited feedback from business owners. This summer, Roger Woodworth of Mindset Matters continued the process with a series of workshops. Overall, participation among business owners was low and produced mixed opinions.

The BID was established as a fund that all district members paid into for mutually beneficial programs like special downtown events, Christmas decorations, summertime flower baskets and promotional efforts. However, it eventually attracted committed critics who felt the district fees were an onerous burden that produced minimal value for them.

Initially, the BID was managed under the authority of the Downtown Sandpoint Business Association. In 2013, it was restructured to operate as an independent branch of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce guided by a board of representatives from a variety of business types— for instance, retail shops and restaurants. Last year, BID manager Kim Queen resigned, throwing the program’s future into question.

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