Should it stay or should it go?

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Roger Woodworth, an independent consultant with Mindset Matters, moderated a workshop Friday on the Business Improvement District, attended by 24 community members who have businesses within the BID boundaries. Fourteen attended the previous workshop on Thursday evening. (Photo by MARY MALONE)

SANDPOINT — Friendly, open, trusting, active, polarizing, spirited, diverse, engaged, nice — these are just a few of the terms used by local business owners to describe the people of Sandpoint.

Those business owners are all within the boundaries of the Sandpoint Business Improvement District. As the fate of the BID is yet undecided, some members agree the benefits it provides are not worth the cost. Two things most agree are beneficial in the BID: flower baskets and Christmas lights.

"People like stuff they can see," said Roger Woodworth, an independent consultant hired by the city to host BID listening sessions and workshops held over the past few weeks.

Most BID members agree there are some benefits and some downfalls to the BID, and are undecided whether it should stay or go.

"A vibrant, pretty, attractive downtown core area is a wonderful thing not only for the retail sector, but for everyone else," said Kevin Nye, who has been with Outdoor Experience throughout its 31 years. 

Nye, who said he could see both sides and was somewhat undecided on the issue, was one of 24 BID members in attendance at Friday's workshop. 

Some of those present said the downtown businesses could take on some of the BID programs themselves, and the city should shoulder some of the responsibility as well. However, if the BID were to stay, most of those present agreed it could use some restructuring.

Cary Vogel, with Vogel Appraisal, said the BID could be an "awesome mechanism" if it were operated efficiently with good communication. On the other hand, he said, maybe the businesses already are successful, and feel the amount of people and events are sufficient to sustain that success.

Jeremy Grimm, program officer for the Sandpoint LOR Foundation, said BIDs "really succeed when people are desperate." So, he said, maybe the community is at a point where it is "well enough along," that it doesn't need the BID to succeed. 

City officials worked with Boise State University students in the public policy and community and regional planning graduate programs recently to develop and administer a survey to BID members. The students reviewed the structure and organization of the BID, as well as developing a survey to obtain feedback from property and business owners to determine whether there is a desire to keep the BID in place or dissolve it.

Out of 471 surveys distributed, only 144 were completed and returned to city within the allotted time frame. Due to the 31-percent response rate, city administrator Jennifer Stapleton said it was not a statistically significant response.

The survey revealed 55 percent of those who responded believe the BID should be dissolved, while 25 percent said it should continue and 20 percent were undecided. But many who expressed the desire to see the BID dissolved, also said a restructuring of the BID may be sufficient.

During recent listening sessions, restructuring of BID fees, boundaries and more were discussed. At Friday's workshop, Woodworth presented the viewpoints he gathered from those sessions, which included those who would like to see the BID dissolved because of unfair fees, poorly operated with no direct benefits, and "those who care can do it on their own."

On the other side, he heard BID members say it is not very costly, it is a useful mechanism that serves the community, and it helps "make Sandpoint special." Those who would see it stay, but with some changes, said it would need better communications and engagement with members, the fees would need to be more equitable, and more focus and leverage of efforts.

Woodworth said, along with the listening sessions and workshops, he has conducted about 50 small group and individual interviews.

"Everything I have heard is a legitimate point of view," he said.

The participants of last week's workshops were encouraged to keep an open mind during the workshop, but each wrote down their thoughts on what should happen if the BID remains, if it is dissolved and, after hearing all the information, what they believe the outcome should be. Woodworth said a draft report of the information will be available to city officials in the next couple weeks. In addition to the 24 who attended Friday's workshop, Woodworth said 14 attended a workshop held the previous evening.

Council members hope to have a decision by July 20, prior to finalizing the 2017-2018 budget, but a decision could run into August depending on the feedback from stakeholders.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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