The Rochester City Council is currently considering updating special assessment rates for downtown Rochester commercial properties that are located in the Principal Shopping District (PSD), something that hasn't occurred in the last eight years, despite significant improvements to the city's downtown. The rate increase, if approved by council in May, would range from 27 cents a square foot for businesses located on the first floor in the center of Main Street, to 16 cents for a business located on the second or upper floor or an adjacent street. PSD chairman Alan Smith told city council and the public at their meeting April 25 that it would cost property owners, or their merchants, on average an additional "$30 per 1,000 square feet, per year."
Certainly, no one ever wants to pay more for anything. But $30 a year is unlikely to break any merchant or business owner. And a PSD offers considerable value to businesses each year, by providing events, marketing and merchandising to cities and by branding their downtowns, which help to capture local residents during their free time. If done right and effectively, that translates into corresponding spending at downtown businesses.
At Downtown Publications, we have seen the value of PSDs first hand, covering downtown Birmingham for six years. While it's impossible to put an exact price tag, or quantify its measurables, as one Rochester council member requested, we can attest to how a PSD, by coordinating the downtown community, marketing it, offering events that bring in residents, visitors and incorporate the business community, help to create the most vibrant downtown possible. A good PSD can also stimulate the local economy and help with occupancy rates. The best measurables? More people walking your streets, visiting and shopping in your stores, and eating in your restaurants. That's the true measure of a PSD.
The Rochester PSD markets Rochester to local residents and to neighboring communities, as well as sponsoring events such as the Big Bright Light Show, Fire and Ice, Downtown Rochester Farmer's Market, Movies in the Moonlight and the Kris Kringle Market.
It takes money to sponsor these fun and significant events, with the PSD assessments accounting for 36 percent, or $244,000, of the total $670,000 budget. No business enjoys paying assessments, much less an increase. But who is kidding who – that $30 increase can be passed on via rent to the business owner, and/or built into the cost of products sold. There's nothing wrong, or unusual about that –that's the cost of doing business in the real world, in exchange for a service to the business owner and the public.
We recognize that business owners have been hit harder than usual this year due to the newly-built parking decks, and their attendant assessments. Growing pains can be painful. But just like teens morphing into adults, the temporary aches will soon be forgotten as Rochester continues to blossom as a vibrant downtown area.
Yes, some complain about Rochester's PSD. There will always be complaints. But we think the PSD provides a valuable service for the downtown area, which is really the underpinning for the entire community. In terms of some complaints, the PSD may want to review whether its weekly, and sometimes more frequent, e-mail blasts are reaching all businesses within its boundaries, but on balance we think the organization does a good job of keeping businesses up to date on what is taking place in the city.
As one last note, we don't think the PSD should fall prey to requests to let some businesses opt out of the PSD, for any reason.
From our vantage point, the PSD is on the right track.