We’re in Good Company::: The role of Downtown Business Improvement Districts

Posted by Cole Judge

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The German Marshall Fund hosted a roundtable panel in Fresno last week, bringing in resources via the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative to help Fresno further its goals at the local level. In one session, experts from other business improvement districts (BIDs) around the country including Downtown Denver, Downtown Long Beach, and the Union Square BID in San Francisco along with expertise of Policy Link and other thought leaders discussed best practices among BIDs. What struck me is just how new the Downtown Fresno BID is!! We are brand new, especially when compared to places like Denver where the BID has been established for over 50 years. For example, in Denver, the entire community knows what the BID is, what their function is and when to go to them for help.  This has come after 50 years of work, partnerships, and improving their BID. Our staff of 4 (6 with 2 fellows) does the work that 30 people do in Denver, but obviously on a smaller scale. One day, I envision the DFP with a large staff, dealing with successful problems such as downtown residents complaining about too much noise coming from a local club and making sure we invited all the right stakeholders who want to attend our popular monthly business meetings. It takes hard work and patience to get there. Denver’s LoDo and Long Beach’s Downtown both were distressed and it took them about 15-30 years to turn things around and to start seeing results. Downtown revitalization takes time. We are still in the very early stages, which is important for us to keep in mind. A BID is one step closer in that direction. It is one of the first things those areas initiated to begin revitalization.

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For now, the Downtown Fresno Partnership (DFP) is a Property-based Business Improvement District (PBID) whose growth is fascinating to watch. We lovingly call it a “Baby BID” because it is brand new whereas many of us who work on the staff have come from long-standing BIDs. Signed into existence January 1, 2011, the DFP is a non-profit organization self-funded by the downtown property owners that advocates for changes in an effort to revitalize Downtown Fresno. The Downtown Fresno Partnership is technically defined as a Property-based Business Improvement District (PBID).  In this structure, the property owners determine the boundaries of the PBID and how much they are willing to spend to allow for the services they desire in the district. A PBID is governed by a private non-profit corporation made up of the property owners. This is important, because it means the private sector has officially become a partner, working to improve their downtown, with the public sector. For more on what the Partnership does, click here.

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In summary, the DFP BID is a monetary power investment by the downtown property owners who want to see downtown improve. Who do we serve? The DFP serves the City of Fresno; the business community; Fulton Mall and other Downtown merchants; public and private agencies; and the community at large through leadership, partnership and advocacy. We’re here to serve downtown! Our work goals have been outlined since the beginning, in our overarching management plan that support Fresno’s downtown and general plans. We work closely with the stakeholders in the area to make downtown a great place to live, work and play.1010920_10200745367048827_678347714_n

While PBIDs are relatively new to California (1994), they have been used extensively throughout the US and Canada over the past 50 years.[i]  There are over 1,000 PBIDs in North America and over 80 in California alone.[ii] Some downtowns have multiple BIDs and overarching districts. For example, Denver’s 14th Street Project just created a new 14th Street General Improvement District to fund the brand new streetscaping investments along that corridor. So, not only are those property owners in the Downtown BID, they are part of the 14th Street GID. Talk about investing in your location! Anyways, back to PBIDs… PBIDs serve a variety of roles, including public safety, maintenance, marketing, economic development, special events, parking management, graffiti removal, and engaging property owners. The DFP focuses on improving the downtown physical environment, strengthening the downtown business community, and programming the downtown district to attract the wider community.

Visit our website, email us, or come by our office on the Fulton Mall to learn more about how BIDs work!


[i] Progressive Urban Management Associates, July 2010.

[ii] International Downtown Association, July 2010.

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One Comment

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  1. I live in Middletown, NY and The Downtown Middletown Business District was established in 1992, a not for profit organization administered by an eleven member Board of Directors.

    The Business Improvement District in partnership with the City of Middletown has a district mission to improve the downtown business climate.

    This goal is achieved through an extensive program of community events such as: Holiday tree lighting, a weekly farm market beginning in June through October, floral plantings, decorative banners, litter control, an active crow abatement program, business recruitment, and coordination of activities with the Middletown Civic and Cultural Affairs Department. This concerted effort enhances the atmosphere of our Downtown Business Improvement District. http://www.middletownbid.org/

    I consider us teens then, we have a lot of work to do but I have hope after reading your article that Middletown will triumph and downtown will be a roaring success!! Good luck to Fresno, hang in there folks!!

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