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March 2022

The Birmingham Shopping District

Celebrates 29 Years of Operation

It’s that time of year when the Birmingham Shopping District sends out special assessments to property owners in the district. It’s also that time a year when many who receive these tax bills ask “Just what is the Birmingham Shopping District and what do they do?”

If cities choose to establish a downtown management organization, they have several models to select from. Many cities in Michigan opt for downtown development authorities (DDAs). These are special districts that divert annual incremental increases in tax revenue toward funding local developments – a method referred to as tax increment financing (TIF). There are also corridor improvement authorities and business improvement zones. Some downtowns across the country are managed by private nonprofits, which include partnerships with chambers of commerce and economic development alliances. Finally, there are principal shopping districts, of which some notable examples include Downtown Lansing and the city of Rochester. Downtown Birmingham is also managed by a principal shopping district.

In Birmingham, the principal shopping district, known as the Birmingham Shopping District, or BSD, is a semi-autonomous branch of the city. It is governed by a 12-person board of downtown stakeholders that include residents, business owners, and property owners. Board members are appointed by the city manager and confirmed by the city commission to serve four-year terms.

The Birmingham Shopping District is responsible for promoting the downtown as a commercial destination for shopping, dining and entertainment, but the BSD does so much more to manage and promote the downtown. It provides services, organizes events, and maintains the district along with the Department of Public Services. The BSD covers four main areas of management for the downtown, including maintenance and infrastructure, economic development, special events, and marketing and advertising. Included in these goals is fostering a vibrant sense of place in the downtown, which is attractive for so many office firms that provide professional services.

On July 14, 1992, Michigan Public Act 146 was signed into law, which serves as the legal basis for the BSD. It allows cities to establish principal shopping districts and outlines their powers and sources of funding. The Birmingham Shopping District was formed on September 14, 1992, when the city commission adopted ordinance 1534, which formally established the principal shopping district and board. On January 14, 1993, the BSD held its first meeting. Later in 1993, the city commission approved the first assessments to fund the shopping district.

The BSD is funded with special assessment dollars, which is a form of tax paid by property owners in the district beyond the regular property tax. The BSD is composed of two districts, each with a separate assessment rate based on the square footage of commercial property. District A composes the core of the downtown, while District 1A covers the downtown’s periphery. This area includes the section of North Old Woodward Avenue north of Euclid as well as what is referred to as the Triangle District.

For the past twenty-nine years, the BSD has helped downtown Birmingham stay competitive, attract investment and talent, and has contributed to an attractive sense of place that has maintained the city’s status as a shopping and dining destination. Birmingham continues to be a highly sought-after market, as evidenced by recent announcements from Restoration Hardware and CB2 and the diversity of small and medium sized businesses. Having a downtown management organization has helped Birmingham stay competitive over these three decades as it continues to enjoy success and economic growth.

Sean Kammer is the Executive Director of the Birmingham Shopping District.

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