Baker St. in Cranbrook. Trevor Crawley photo.

City council hears pitch for downtown business improvement zone

A Cranbrook business organization is pitching the creation of a new not-for-profit entity designed to help downtown property and business owners market and promote the area to increase customer traffic.

Joey Hoechsmann, the president of the Downtown Business Association (DBA), made the pitch to Cranbrook city council as a way to start the conversation about potentially creating a Business Improvement Area (BIA) in Cranbrook’s downtown core.

“For us, it helps us legitimize ourselves as a downtown because of the way we collect membership — we’re not that great at it,” Hoechsmann said. “We try to represent all of the downtown but sometimes we miss a few sectors, whether that’s professional services or non-profit or whatever.

“So having this whole zone I think would really help with that.”

While the DBA already serves as an advocacy organization for downtown businesses, there are challenges and limitations, according to Hoechsmann. DBA members are busy running their own businesses and don’t have time to follow through on ideas, while membership dues are collected inconsistently due to the volunteer nature of the organization, he said.

“We are a volunteer organization, we run on a very very small budget, but we try to be as active as we can to improve the downtown,” Hoechsmann said.

A BIA will help promote downtown economic development, leverage funding opportunities, support the city’s events and marketing and provide additional resources and information on small business health, he added.

Hoechsmann stressed that the presentation was meant as a way to get people talking, rather that a set-in-stone request for support from city council and administration staff.

The pitch featured a proposed zone in the downtown BIA zone that stretches from Balment Park and Baker Park to the intersection of Second St. N and Van Horne St. and north from Van Horne Set. and 4th St. N.

Hoechsmann’s presentation outlined three proposed options that carried escalated funding requests and BIA benefits, however, he focused on the first option to lay the groundwork and used the other two as aspirational guides.

The first option would see a BIA budget of $65,000 raised through a mandatory membership levy for businesses and property owners within the zone that would be collected by the city through the property tax process.

That initial budget breaks down to $25,000 for a part-time administrator, $20,000 for marketing and promotion, $5,000 for member services, $5,000 for beautification and revitalization, and $5,000 for festivals and special events.

Marketing and administration are two key elements, Hoechsmann said.

“What we’re looking at is to hire a part-time person, 20 hours a week, and they would do a lot of the admin stuff that we are falling down on,” Hoechsmann said. “We think we can really improve what’s happening downtown with paid executive director and our hope would be that that would turn from a part-time into a full-time position.”

The membership levy would be scaled depending on the size of the property and size of the business, which estimates a dollar range from roughly $90 to $1,300.

“Nothing here is set in stone, this is just a proposal and it’s designed to open a conversation so we can talk about this and hopefully move it forward with a good plan,” Hoechsmann said.

As far as city support goes, Hoechsmann said the initial request would be to use parking revenues that have been redirected into downtown revitalization to fund the BIA for two years as a test run of the proposal.

Council received the presentation as information but didn’t take further action.

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