Every day, ambassadors stroll or ride around downtown Louisville offering directions to tourists and keeping a watchful eye out, while other workers pick up litter, sweep the sidewalks and fix chipped paint on lampposts.
The services go above and beyond the basic ones offered by Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government and funded by taxpayers. They aim to give Louisville a reputation for being clean, friendly and safe as thousands of tourists flood into downtown each year for vacation, conventions and other events.
The additional amenities provided are possible because of the creation of the Central Business District back in 1991, which required property owners within a certain boundary to pay an extra fee on their property tax bills. Twenty-six years later, the Central Business District’s economic development agency Louisville Downtown Partnership is investigating whether the city should create its second business improvement district (BID) in NuLu to help maintain the neighborhood following a $13,4 million streetscape improvement project.
Louisville Metro Council could simply vote to expand the Central Business District (like it did last year) to include NuLu, said Rebecca Matheny, the LDP’s executive director. But “that neighborhood probably needs a different basket of services.”
The expansion moved the boundary to include Market, Main and Rowan streets going down to 12th Street, which brought businesses include Over the 9, Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. and Caufield’s Novelty into the fold.
Unlike the few blocks added the downtown BID last year, the NuLu boundaries aren’t be adjacent to those for the downtown BID, making it more practical to give NuLu its own BID, said Ken Herndon, LDP’s director of operations.
LDP staff will spend the next couple months talking to stakeholders in the neighborhood, including business owners and property owners, who would have to foot the additional fee.
First, the LDP must gauge whether property owners are in favor of creating a business improvement district around NuLu, Matheny said “We will have extensive public dialogue about it.”
Staff members, with feedback from the stakeholders, must determine what additional services the businesses and property owners want and where the boundaries of a NuLu business district would be set.
“There are a lot of new developments that might want to be part of a BID,” Matheny said. Developments such as Rabbit Hole Distilling or the Main & Clay apartments, which are located off NuLu’s main drag, for example. “These days, the services metro governments provide are very basic.”
Property owners also would have a say in the maximum rate they would pay for the additional amenities, which in the Central Business District are provided by Louisville-based company Block By Block. How much a property owner pays is based on property values and is determined by a 15-person board that includes business owners, residents, property owners and government officials.
The ordinance that created the Central Business District, for example, states that annual rate will never exceed $0.0831 of every $100 of assessed property value. The current rate in the Central Business District is $0.0745 for every $100 of assessed value.
Because NuLu has fewer buildings to shoulder the cost of services, “they will have to have a much higher rate to cover their services,” Herndon said.
Once the rates, services and boundaries are decided, LDP staff must gather signatures and petition Louisville Metro Council to create the business district. The owners of at least 33 percent of the properties within the proposed district must sign the petition and their properties must account for at least 51 percent of the assessed value of all the lots, according to state law.
If there are enough qualified signatures, then the matter would go to Metro Council for a vote.
If approved, the NuLu business district would be only the third business improvement district in the state and the second in Louisville. The Central Business District was the first. The second business improvement district is in Lexington and was just created last year.
“People have kind of stuck their toe in the water over the years,” Herndon said, but nothing ever came of it.
He’s given presentations about how BIDs work to property owners in Old Louisville and the Highlands over the years, but he said the proposed NuLu BID is the most serious effort he’s seen.
Matheny said the process could take more than a decade — as it did in the case of Lexington — or it could take six months. The timeline depends on the response from property owners, she said, adding that she feels confident.
“We do feel there is a lot of widespread support.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated what percentage of property owners needed to sign the petition.