Having created three business districts along the Harlem Avenue corridor, the village of Riverside is now contemplating a fourth, this one comprising the central business district downtown.
Business districts are formally designated areas created after a lengthy public process that allow municipalities, over a 23-year period, to create a special fund that can be used within the district to make public infrastructure improvements, assemble property and offer economic incentives to spur economic development and improve existing properties.
The fund is created by imposing a 1-percent sales tax within the business district, as has been done for the village’s three Harlem Avenue business districts. The village used money from one of the funds to reimburse the general fund for the purchase of the property at 2710 Harlem Ave., which it intends to sell to an adjacent property owner.
The village is also looking to use business district funds to pay for streetscape improvements in that area, including gateway signage and landscaping to beautify it.
Ashley Monroe, the village’s assistant manager, pitched the idea of a downtown business district to elected officials at their meeting June 16, saying she had received a proposal from the financial consultant Kane McKenna and Associates to assist the village in shepherding the public process.
Riverside used Kane McKenna as its consultant to create all three Harlem Avenue business districts. The firm estimated the cost of its services for creating the new business district at $15,000 to $21,000. That upfront cost could be reimbursed by using funds collected after the business district sales tax is imposed.
A proposed map for the new business district shows that it would include not only commercial property downtown but also civic and residential property west and east of the downtown.
Village Manager Jessica Frances said widening the boundaries past the immediate commercial district would allow the village to fund public infrastructure improvements in a larger area, though there was some doubt whether business district funds could be used for civic building improvements.
A few years ago the village undertook a study to see what improving existing public buildings or constructing new ones would cost and then abandoned those plans after learning its price tag would be between $7 million and $28 million.
Before hiring Kane McKenna to begin the process, however, trustees directed the Riverside Economic Development Commission to reach out to the downtown business and property owners, solicit feedback and report back to the village board before elected officials decide whether to move ahead.
“Specifically, I’m interested in the Economic Development Commission’s ability to reach out to the businesses and to have that dialogue,” said Trustee Megan Claucherty. “I’m interested in their opinion as a whole, but I’m hoping that that’s based on feedback from our businesses.”