SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — You may have noticed a person in a yellow shirt walking with a broom and dustpan in downtown Sioux Falls. Or maybe you’ve noticed the flower baskets hanging from light poles.
That happens because of an assessment paid by downtown building and property owners to help pay for services organized by Downtown Sioux Falls (DTSF).
“This stuff doesn’t happen magically or by accident,” said Joe Batcheller, president of DTSF.
Back in 1989, businesses organized an improvement or Business Improvement District (BID) assessment to help pay for services above and beyond what they received in downtown, Batcheller said. “Originally, it helped support a lot of events.”
The number of events increased and so did the exposure of the downtown. “It helped build a critical mass (to the downtown),” Batcheller said. “We have a much different downtown now…”
The scope of what is funded through the assessments has expanded. DTSF is proposing an increase in the downtown assessment to help pay for services including two more downtown ambassadors.
“A downtown ambassador is like a help desk downtown,” Batcheller said. DTSF has one ambassador now who wears a yellow shirt that signifies he’s the ambassador.
The ambassador will answer questions about restaurants or events. He will pick up litter and sweep up a mess on the sidewalk. He will also handle situations that include aggressive panhandlers and similar.
“Maybe he can defuse a situation or maybe he can connect them to services,” Batcheller said.
“There may be a circumstance where someone is sleeping on a bench and maybe they need to go to the Link (community triage center),” Batcheller said.
DTSF tried to organize an ambassador program about eight years ago but was not successful because of a lack of funding, he said.
Batcheller said he shifted some priorities in the DTSF budget and one ambassador was hired about 1 1/2 years ago.
Now, after working with two consultants who said the city should have eight to 10 ambassadors, DTSF is pursuing two additional ambassadors.
To do that, the city ordinance that caps assessments to buildings and property (land) needs to increase, Batcheller said.
Buildings are charged $1.50 per $1,000 which is capped at $1,500 when the building’s value reaches $1 million. The property is assessed $1 per $1,000 of value which is capped at $200 when the value is $200,00.
DTSF wants to remove the cap. The new rate would still be $1.50 per $1,000 but for buildings valued higher than $1 million, the amount would be 50 cents for every $1,000 in value. Property would be assessed at the $1 rate until a $200,000 value, then it would be 50 cent assessment for every $1,000 in value.
Batcheller said the proposed increase would impact 88 total downtown entities. There are 75 buildings at the cap and 83 properties at the cap. There are a total of 235 entities downtown.
During a September 13 informational meeting presentation to the Sioux Falls Council, Batcheller shared some data on the changes in the downtown. Batcheller said there has been a 13% drop in vacancy rates since 2010; and a 70% increase in property values since 2015.
So far, the response from the potentially impacted entities has been favorable, Batcheller said.
Thirty-three years ago, the downtown was more of a workplace than a destination. There are more shops, restaurants and events that draw people to the downtown beyond the workday hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Batcheller said.
The city’s population was around 100,000 in 1989. It’s grown by nearly 100,000 since then.
As the city grows, so does the activity in the downtown, Batcheller said. But increased population and activity also means there will be growing pains, he said.
An increase in the BID can help fund services that help keep the downtown clean, safe and inviting, he said.
The downtown borders are about 1 1/2 miles from north to south and 3/4 of a mile from east to west.
People may notice when there is litter on the downtown sidewalk, but they likely won’t see the BID-funded sidewalk sweeper cleaning the sidewalk. They may not know its DTSF watering 128 hanging flower baskets or the 114 above-ground planters. Or that DTSF cleans broken glass from a sidewalk or helps remove snow in the winter.
It takes time and money to provide that service. Downtown buildings and properties are already investing in the area, and now DTSF believes they are ready to do more.