DID Faces Scrutiny From City Over Effectiveness

Downtown-development agency gets mixed reviews

The mostly tax-funded nonprofit in charge of keeping downtown Fort Wayne attractive and business-friendly got mixed reviews from City Council members Tuesday evening.

In a unanimous vote, council delayed until next week the city’s $150,000 contribution to the Downtown Improvement District, or DID, for 2012 after at least two members said they shared a list of doubts regarding the agency’s performance.

“The DID has been slipping in some of its vitality and maybe some of its benefit,” Council President Tom Smith, R-1st, told DID president Rich Davis. “You’re doing some things well, but you’ve got to get beyond where you’re at.”

In particular, Smith said he does not think Davis has worked hard enough to promote downtown, reach out to business owners and publicize the agency’s work. He also complained that the DID website appears incomplete and that few people know when or where the agency holds its public board meetings. Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, said he shares Smith’s concerns.

The DID, created in 1995, spent $578,511 in 2011 and finished the year with an $18,000 deficit. It draws more than half its budget from a special tax assessed by downtown property owners, with another $100,000 each from the city and Allen County.

Davis, who was named DID president in 2008, said he appreciated Smith’s comments and agreed the agency could improve in some areas. But he also said the DID remains fully engaged in promoting downtown businesses and activities.

“I think you’ll be glad to know we are, in fact, engaged, and I’m personally engaged” in reaching out to businesses, he said.

Some of the DID’s activities include its “Clean and Green” downtown trash-cleanup and beautification program, weekly lunch concerts during the summer and recent efforts to reduce the impact of this year’s five-month closure of Clinton Street just north of downtown.

Davis said the DID is working to develop a more focused strategy and more clearly-defined mission as the agency’s next re-authorization approaches. In 2015, council will decide whether or not to authorize the DID for another 10 years.

Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, who represents nearly all of downtown, took a more positive view than Smith, saying he believes Davis has done a fine job in his role with the DID.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Mr. Davis, and I feel that he’s been involved with a lot of outreach. I suppose there’s always room for improvement,” Paddock said. “I think, quite frankly, the (city’s) investment is a bargain.”

This year’s contribution from the city would also include an additional $50,000 toward a capital-improvements fund to help replace downtown trash cans, decorative banners and other items.

Along with his criticisms, Smith offered a list of suggestions for how Davis could better promote downtown. He suggested that Davis could start appearing as a guest on local radio stations and writing columns for local newspapers.

“Maybe start acting more like a politician,” Smith said.

-News Sentinel

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Categories: DID Downtown Improvement District, Goverment

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