About two years ago, just before the State decided to do away with redevelopment agencies, more than a year ago, stakeholders along the Atlantic Avenue and Artesia Boulevard corridors of north Long Beach banded together to figure out how to revitalize an otherwise blighted part of town.
What came out of those initial discussions between property owners, government officials and the North Long Beach Business Alliance was the idea of forming the Uptown Property and Business Improvement District (UPBID), a proposal that is now just steps away from becoming a reality.
The proposed L-shaped district boundary would stretch across the 8th and 9th Council Districts, extending north up Atlantic Avenue between East Market Street and Artesia Boulevard and then east down Artesia Boulevard between Atlantic Avenue and Gundry Avenue.
Property owners within the boundary have until today, April 5, to submit petitions to the consultant Civitas Advisors in a bid to start a hearing and ballot process to form the new district.
“The service plan is designed to make uptown more inviting to potential tenants and customers, increase awareness of the area and ultimately improve commercial activity, occupancy and safety,” said Yanki Greenspan, a north Long Beach property owner and commercial realtor for Westland Real Estate Group, in a letter to property owners.
If approved, owners of commercial parcels, schools, mobile homes, parks and apartments would be assessed fees based on square footage and type, generating an annual budget that would go toward “tree and median maintenance, economic development, business attraction and retention, promotion, security and advocacy.”
For instance, small commercial parcels less than 20,000 square feet would be assessed a lower rate than large commercial parcels more than 100,000 square feet since larger properties require more services and attention.
Single-family residential property owners would be excluded from the assessment.
The district would also be governed by a board of directors of the proposed Uptown Property and Community Association, composed of a majority of parcel owners paying the assessment and representing a variety of interests within the PBID area.
According to a management district plan conducted by Roseville-based Bennett Engineering Services, BIDs have been used in various cities throughout the country as ways to increase sales, attract new tenants, increase occupancies and increase property values in blighted areas. The proposed services and maintenance programs are expected to “improve safety, cleanliness and commercial activity within the UPBID,” which in turn would allow for marketing programs to “directly promote commerce and increase tenancy on assessed parcels.”
Studies have found that “businesses consider quality-of-life issues to be more important factors in choosing a location than they do tax rates and real-estate prices” and that “customers and residents may feel more comfortable and safer within BIDs that have less obvious signs of litter, graffiti and abandoned cars,” according to the plan. In addition, the plan states that a “stronger sense of place that accompanies cleaner streets encourages patronage and has increasingly positive repercussions in a BID.”
According to the plan, studies show that every $10,000 spent on security activities by PBIDs reduces the average number of crimes in the district and leads to fewer arrests.
Among the 226 parcels within the proposed PBID boundary, 42 of them are properties formerly owned by the now shuttered Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA). The former RDA parcels are currently being managed by the City of Long Beach, which is acting as the successor agency to the Long Beach RDA, until they can be auctioned off under the State’s dissolution process.
The Long Beach City Council, which governs the successor agency, authorized the city manager on April 3 to sign a petition as the owner of former RDA parcels, also authorizing the signature of a subsequent ballot, declaring the City’s support for establishing the new PBID.
“In this new, post-redevelopment era, we should be proactive in creating strategies to continue the mission of removing blight and revitalizing the community,” said 9th District Long Beach City Councilmember Steve Neal during the successor agency meeting. He said the assessment rates are “the most conservative in the region,” adding that, if approved, the new PBID could be “one of the most transformational and important milestones in the uptown renaissance.”
According to a city staff report, the Uptown PBID would last for a five-year period. The total assessment for the first year is anticipated to be $199,769. The assessment would be subject to an annual rate increase of up to 4 percent per year.
Jim Fisk, who manages BIDs as part of the City’s asset management bureau, however, said that, since the former RDA parcels are included in the proposed PBID, approval from the Long Beach RDA Oversight Board and the California State Department of Finance would be required.
If enough petitions are collected, ballots will be mailed out this summer and then sent to the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office. In order for the PBID to pass, however, more than 50 percent of the total assessment-worth of property owners that submitted petitions would have to vote in favor of the proposal, Fisk said. The goal is to have the PBID go into effect by Jan. 1, 2014.
Fisk said that, currently, there are only two property-based BIDs in Long Beach, including one in downtown, approved last year, and another on the west side as part of the Magnolia Industrial Group, Inc. He added, however, that there are other merchant-based BIDs, known as Parking and Business Improvement Areas (PBIAs). Such is the case with Belmont Shore, Bixby Knolls and 4th Street, for instance. The most recent PBIA was formed for East Anaheim Street in 2010.
The Downtown PBID, however, drew controversy last year since the district area included mixed-use parcels with both commercial and residential property owners, particularly condominium owners. Fisk said, however, that won’t be the case with the UPBID in north Long Beach.
“The PBID law of 1994 says that any parcel within the district has to be assessed unless they’re zoned solely residential or zoned agricultural,” he said. “There’s nothing agricultural and nothing downtown that’s zoned solely residential. However, in the area that’s proposed for north Long Beach in the uptown PBID, there are parcels zoned solely residential. So you can’t assess them, and it isn’t a problem. There’s no contention up there.”
The Uptown PBID area encompasses the abandoned historic Atlantic Theater site to the south, where a new state-of-the-art library is being proposed near the North Village business corridor, and Jordan High School, undergoing major renovations, to the north.
Eighth District Long Beach Councilmember Al Austin said the new Uptown PBID could help with “bridging” business corridors, particularly along Atlantic Avenue from the Bixby Knolls area to further north. Although the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) assesses only businesses and has received a majority of its funds through RDA, he said the nonprofit has been a “test case for success” and a “great model” for what such approaches to economic development can accomplish.
“If we can bottle that and move that to this uptown BID, it will go a long way… to expanding and contributing to the renaissance of north Long Beach,” Austin said.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the BKBIA, said that he welcomes the new PBID.
“Instead of a district going unnoticed, there are cleanups and façade improvements, and there’s much more attention and focus going into the geographic area,” he said. “When you’re in a BID, that’s what happens.”
Blair added that the moniker “uptown” used to only apply to Bixby Knolls as a shopping destination and alternative to downtown. But he said the term is now used as “an umbrella for anything north of the 405 Freeway.”