Winston-Salem council approves downtown service district

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Downtown Winston-Salem (Credit: Wikitravel.org)

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — By a unanimous vote, the Winston-Salem City Council on Monday approved a service district that will tax property owners in the core of the downtown area and use the money for safety patrols and other services there.

The district won’t go into effect until July 2014, the beginning of the 2014-15 fiscal year. The area will be called the Downtown Winston-Salem Business Improvement District.

The district consists of about 61 blocks downtown roughly bounded by Church Street and Patterson Avenue on the east, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Sixth Street on the north, Broad and Spruce streets on the west and Business 40 on the south. The district excludes such historic residential neighborhoods as Holly Avenue and West End.

The council did not approve a tax rate for the district – that won’t happen until next summer – but proponents have advocated a rate of 9 cents for every $100 of taxable property. The tax could bring in about $470,000 per year, according to estimates.

The owner of a $200,000 property would pay $180 under the new tax if the rate is approved at 9 cents.

In addition to safety patrols, the money will go for extra cleaning, marketing and support for recruiting and keeping businesses downtown.

The district would be operated by the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, with the help of an advisory board made up of people representing various downtown interests.

The plan was initially met with some skepticism by some downtown residents and particularly business owners who lease their properties. Advocates of the district held a series of meetings with residents and business owners to more fully explain the concept. When the issue reached a public hearing in October most of the opposition had melted away.

“A couple things that were the most important were that people understood that people with downtown interests would be on the committee,” said Gayle Anderson, president and chief executive of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce. “And then when they figured out that it was a relatively small amount, people said this makes sense.”

Downtown will become a more appealing place with extra cleanups that remove items such as posters placed illegally or gum on the sidewalk, Anderson said.

Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, said he was pleased that most of the objections had been dealt with.

“Having input from the citizens is critical,” Thiel said. “We worked very diligently in that regard. It is going to be important to continue to keep our ears open and listen to the downtown stakeholders and the advisory committee that is going to be helping us manage the project.”

Council Member Derwin Montgomery said Monday that the creation of the district makes it possible to take downtown “to the next phase and next level.”

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