The Mount Airy Downtown Inc. (MAD) on Tuesday unanimously approved an expansion of the Municipal Service District, or MSD area, in the downtown portion of the city.
The District is an area in which property owners pay an additional tax that goes directly for projects within the district.
The present tax rate for the MSD is 21 cents per $100 of assessed value, and the board recommended to adopt that rate for the proposed areas of expansion.
The city’s board of commissioners must approve any change in the MSD boundaries, and residents and property owners will be given notice of a public hearing on the issue.
“We need to be present and supportive at the public hearing,” Ashby suggested.
Webb noted that boundaries to the MSD can be adjusted on a yearly basis, but in the past the boundaries have been adjusted infrequently. “We really need to start looking at this on a yearly basis,” he told the board.
“The narratives on why we want to do this are fairly straightforward,” Webb said. “There are grants available up to $200,000 or $25,000 per job. This is a gateway to our central business district and parts of it are in a state of disrepair. This will allow people in the private sector the opportunity to use design guidelines, design services, and grant opportunities to improve their property and the tax rate base downtown. That is our narrative — it’s all to support development in the private sector.”
He added that the expansion would add “a little over $6,000 in revenue” to the budget, which “is not a tremendous amount compared to the amount of work — 8 or 9 percent of our budget.”
Ashby said that amount could lead to two more facade grants, and the MAD group would be “spending a lot of time and effort in creating more value than in immediate returns.”
“We might decide to expand further in the future, but right now we want to focus on what we can do to make our community better, with our economic restructuring efforts. This is where we are looking for an opportunity. At the Main Street conference, they indicated that Main Street is not just the main street, we need to look at alleyways, support areas, and gateways. When people are coming into your Main St. district, what do they see? We want to have opportunity here,” Webb said.
The board will meet for an overview of the N.C. Main Street Resource Team’s findings on April 28 at city hall, from 12 to 5 p.m.
Main Street Conference
The board also heard a report about the N.C. Main Street Conference several board members attended in New Bern.
MAD President Ted Ashby, Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison, and others traveled to New Bern last week for the annual N.C. Main Street conference. Morrison said she would share her notes from the conference with the entire board through email, and presented highlights from the conference during the meeting, such as the “wonderful second floor housing” they observed, as well as bears painted by artists in the downtown area, similar to the artist’s fiddles for the upcoming Fiddle Crawl in downtown Mount Airy.
Morrison said New Bern had a large amount of outdoor seating and alleyways that were well-lit and attractive. She added that several hotels were located within walking distance to the downtown area, which meant the group didn’t have to drive anywhere the entire time they were there. “We don’t have that luxury here [of downtown hotels], and it would be nice to work on that.”
“People who are living downtown will spend their money there, which supports the merchants and then in turn brings more people in to work, play, and live,” Webb shared. “This seems to be what we are missing out on, except for the Renfro Lofts…second floor use is what we are lacking more than anything.”
Webb added that downtown housing typically rents, per square foot, for more than retail space. Ashby agreed, saying that downtown housing could “anchor the value of the building.”
Gene Rees said the mixed use buildings in New Bern were impressive, noting that several included features such as retail space on the lower floor, gallery space/studio space on the middle floor, and residential on the upper floor. Webb noticed uses other than residential for upper floors in New Bern, including a ballroom dancing studio, an architect’s office, and a gallery.
“Also, the alleys were just as good as street fronts,” Webb said.
Rees told the board that Webb served on a discussion panel about downtown wineries, distilleries, and breweries, representing Old North State Winery. “It was interesting to see how much impact businesses like that have on a downtown area,” he shared.
“It’s a fad thing now, but we’ve been doing it since 2003 [with Old North State Winery],” Webb added.
DBA President and MAD board member Phil Marsh said years ago, Mount Airy’s downtown area had residential, retail, and office use in the upper floors.
Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.