Monday night's City Council meeting revealed a dais that was by no means ready to sign off on the full-gospel 7 cents per $100 of taxable value figure requested by Downtown Durham Inc. and others backing a special business improvement district for downtown Durham.
We noted here on Tuesday that Mayor Bell seemed poised to single-handedly want to find a compromise position, something hizzoner is wont to do when there seems to be division on the seven-member body.
And in the mayor's wisdom, he's seen fit to divide the BID rate in two. BCR has learned from a reliable City Hall source that Bell is looking to sell a 3.5 cent rate in place of the 7 cent'er proposed by DDI -- and with a start date delayed until July 2012.
The final tally would be revenue neutral to the so-called Bull BID, which had looked to augment DDI's annual funding in order to add additional streetscape maintenance, cleaning and ambassador services in the urban core, along with additional marketing for events and the like. That's because city manager Tom Bonfield would be called on by the council to find just under $200,000 per year to fill in the revenue hole left behind by the missing three and a half pennies.
Bell's decision to cut the Bull BID rate in two may be wise as a way of looking for community accord on a matter that brought out majority support but pointed minority opposition.
But we're not ready to call the move Solomonic yet. The real question still stands: will tax opponents like Hank Scherich, Terry Sanford Jr. and Bob "Blingram" Ingram (more on that later) come around even to a lower rate?
The idea is seemingly simple, of course.
The BID drew support from property owners representing three-quarters of the downtown tax base, according to DDI as quoted by the Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg earlier this week. But that didn't mean that the opponents didn't make some substantial noise.
Scherich, Sanford and others have made a range of arguments, from concerns over the economic cycle timing of the tax hike, to whether the services the additional tax would provide would disproportionately support visitor-oriented services while taxing all downtown property owners at an equal rate.
In theory, support from the City's coffers could open a range of options, including hiking downtown parking fees, for instance. DDI and its boosters had argued that there was no provision for business improvement districts to siphon money from such services, under North Carolina law -- but there wouldn't seem to be anything to stop the City of Durham from raising money towards its voluntary contribution from any source possible.
Still, BCR's already hearing some worry that the mayor's compromise might reopen some wounds that the BID, ironically, was meant to avoid.
DDI's Bill Kalkhof and others made a point in selling the BID of noting that downtown had been the recipient of tens of millions of dollars in public funding support in the past decade or two -- money that's drawn increasing scrutiny from struggling commercial districts like the Fayetteville St. corridor and neighborhoods in North-East and Southwest Central Durham.
The BID, the reasoning went, would allow downtown to create a mechanism for sustainable self-funding for downtown's extra needs; the urban core essentially could start paying its own way for needs like trash pickup that exceeded those of the typical commercial or residential area.
Instead, the compromise will bring local taxes, yes, but also bring six-figures per year of municipal revenue to the table -- something likely to bring the Larry Hesters of the world front and center for the May 2 public hearing.
We're hearing the revised proposal has the support of the regular Bell bloc (the mayor, Mayor pro tem Cora Cole-McFadden, and Howard Clement), and is likely to draw more support, even if not fully supportive of the measure across the board.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two interesting sidelights, some containing speculation:
The first is, what does the BID outcome do to the much-rumored but unconfirmed possibility that Kalkhof might seek a City Council seat in this fall's at-large election?
Diane Catotti's out of the race and Indy publisher Steve Schewel is in, but there's plenty of other candidates likely to throw their names in Mike Ashe's ring -- none as intriguing to speculate on, perhaps, as Kalkhof, who's got nearly twenty years of close linkage to the public sector, not to mention a very close relationship with county manager Mike Ruffin, and tons of insider cred.
A pure BID win would give Kalkhof a solid story to tell in an election, particularly from the vantage point of deflecting perceptions that he's once and always downtown's man; at the seven cent level, a presumed candidate Kalkhof could always note that he helped advocate for a better downtown -- and, then, for downtown to pull its economic weight.
A $0.035 rate is still a win, but might muddy that tagline, even if only slightly.
Secondly, and on surer footing: if you noticed, Mayor Bell seemed a bit interested in his public comments on the BID in the impact that the district might have on personal properties.
But not, we'd guess, just any cars.
Notable in his presence with an anti-BID button the other night? Bob Ingram, former GlaxoSmithKline exec and now head of his own startup.
Ingram's long been thought to be a possible tenant for new downtown development. But he also owns one of the more, er, unique collections of personal property downtown.
Longtime BCR readers will remember our 2008 story on Ingram's little downtown car collection; he uses his space on Duke St., in the green building visible from the Brightleaf Square parking lot, to store a collection of pretty Porsches.
Porsches that we reckon Ingram -- and, the mayor apparently -- feared would suddenly get hit with a seven cent surcharge.
We're hearing mixed messages on whether that's really the case, or whether the cars would obtain Ingram's home address rather than their Duke St. digs.
Still, it's the best explanation that BCR's source has for Ingram's anti-BID bid -- or for Mayor Bell's obvious concern over the impact on personal property like cars.
It's not every Durham mover and shaker who has their own Porsche collection downtown. Actually, it's not any of them, save for Mr. Ingram.
Or, as the official BCR nickname now goes, "Blingram" Ingram.