Fixing downtown

Business leaders and politicians agree on two things: Downtown Miami should bustle with residents, shoppers and tourists drawn to shops, restaurants and nightlife. But it's a long way from now to there.

So how do they make it happen?

Some businesses and Miami's Downtown Development Authority say one of the best ways is to establish what's called a business improvement district for the beleaguered Flagler Street area -- assess property owners to pay for cleanup, security and other improvements.

Read below to see what some of the major players who will shape the future of downtown have to say about what's already in the works, and what's planned -- for the next few months, the coming year, and beyond.

Downtown Development Authority

Expanding cleanup crews and adding an "eyes-and-ears" information team that walks the Flagler Street area responds to immediate needs, Executive Director Dana Nottingham said, and lays a foundation for a long-term solution: creating a BID for the area.

Nottingham thinks a business improvement district -- who would run it hasn't been determined -- could be up and working within two years.

Short-term: Expand the Downtown Enhancement Team, from 14 to 20 workers, to help clean the streets, respond to major messes such as graffiti, and overall supplement the city's work.

By Oct. 1, start the Ambassadors program, eight uniformed workers who will provide information and added surveillance -- they will be connected to police via walkie-talkies.

Medium-term: Continue the $300,000 tenant improvement program, which provides grants of between $10,000 and $20,000 to businesses in and around Flagler. Other plans include a $150,000 facade improvement program and several other projects that focus on beautification and pedestrian accessibility throughout downtown.

Longer-term: Within two years, establish, if the interest is there, a BID.

The City of Miami

Mayor Manny Diaz has immediate plans to renovate and beautify the Flagler area and within months, provide more police presence. But he questions whether a BID makes sense because "you have a DDA already."

"Quite frankly, I think the DDA has to prove that it's doing a good job with what it's doing today, " he said, adding it already is funded by a tax on property owners. "I don't know what a BID necessarily adds." Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he would be interested in creating a BID as long as it didn't involve the same leadership at the DDA.

"It would have to be an entirely new board of directors, " he said. "Some of them have been at it for 16 or 18 years, and if you haven't gotten that, you shouldn't get another day."

Downtown Miami Partnership

The No. 1 priority of this merchants group, whose role includes marketing for 200 area businesses: Create a business improvement district, said project manager Robert Geitner.

The group sees the BID stretching from North and South First Streets, and from Biscayne Boulevard to a west boundary yet to be decided.

The group is also focused on lobbying for faster city review of companies' new business plans, which Geitner says "can take months and should take weeks." Delays impede recruiting new business, he said.

Short-term: Push for a way to streamline permitting for building improvements, both plan reviews and inspections.

Medium-term: Settle the details of the BID: geographic boundaries, funding, services it will provide beyond what the city already does.

Move forward with the necessary legislative steps to create the BID.

Long-term: Supporting the BID.

Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce

Alvah Chapman created the chamber's New World Committee in 1968 to revitalize downtown. Current chairman Neisen Kasdin sees the committee taking on that activist role again. Fixing Flagler is the topic of its first meeting of the year, today.

"There are a package of immediate quality of life issues, the safety and sanitation issues, that need to be dealt with, " said Kasdin, who is also a DDA board member. Kasdin thinks the chamber can be a sounding board and advocate for a blueprint that will be used in the coming decades that establishes a common vision shared by the city of Miami, the DDA and the chamber.

"I don't want to see everyone doing their own thing, " he said.

Short-term: The chamber will lobby local government to improve safety, sanitation and traffic enforcement in the downtown core.

Medium- and Long-term: Push to implement a master plan for the area within six months, and then continue to support it.

Q. What's a BID?

A. Businesses sometimes ask governments to create business improvement districts when they want services beyond those the local municipality already provides -- such as extra cleaning, security or marketing.

Q. How's it funded?

A. By assessing a tax on property owners within the BID -- typically, anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent of property taxes. But in New York, for example, larger BID participants contribute on average more like 20 percent.

Q. Who runs it?

A. Typically, a board of directors decides how to spend the money.

Q. How is it created?

A. A municipality must pass a law creating a BID. The state also has some specific laws about BIDs.

Q. Why have a BID?

A. Urban development expert Lawrence Houstoun says BIDs are such a common vehicle for urban revitalization that in areas that don't have one, "people kind of wonder why." There are more than 1,000 in North America today, he says.

"If you have a BID, it means you have a united business community and commercial property owners working towards a common objective."