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Council reauthorizes Sixth Street PID

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Council has voted to reauthorize an East Sixth Street Public Improvement District, although property owners in the district were split as to whether they thought the special tax district had been as effective and open as it needed to be.

The East Sixth Street PID, which stretches along Sixth Street from the Bank of America on Congress Avenue down to the Hilton Garden Inn at Interstate 35, was initiated by property owners in 2004 and administered by the City of Austin. The intention was to have it expire at the end of the first five years and be reauthorized.

Bob Woody, who owns a number of downtown properties and runs the Pecan Street Café, registered to speak against the PID but still offered his lukewarm support. Woody said he would prefer to see a group that was more inclusive of local businesses.

“We can support it, but what I want to see is more of an open type of group, so that we can have a greater amount of business participation and not just something manipulated by a few,” Woody said.

Changing the PID would essentially mean starting from scratch, and generating new momentum would be difficult, Woody acknowledged.

The Council, acting as the board of the PID did attempt to allay some of Woody’s fears. Now the PID membership will have to vote to approve an increase in the assessment upon property owners. The PID can tax up to 25 cents per hundred-dollar valuation. The rate recently was bumped from 10 cents to 15 cents, which raises about $63,000 a year in income for the PID, known as 6ixth.

Josh Allen, who runs 6ixth, said the membership vote would be a way to build consensus in the group and provide a way to raise seed money for future projects.

In addition to the $63,000 in assessed taxes on property owners, the city contributes $43,500 to 6ixth, and the Downtown Austin Alliance kicks in $20,000. Additionally, 6ixth expects to generate in-kind contributions from local business, bringing the budget total to $150,000.

But some property owners say they’re not getting enough bang for the buck. Harold Laves, whose father owned and operated Laves Jewelry, was opposed to the additional taxes, which he would have to pass onto his tenants. Laves closed his family business in 1991, after being attacked by a homeless man with a machete in 1990.

“You look at the trash that’s down there. I don’t understand how a PID could improve that, unless you get rid of the undesirables,” Laves said. “I’m sure if my father were still here, he’d shoot me for even thinking that. But you have a PID for Sixth Street. You have a PID for downtown, on top of the taxes. Somewhere we’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

Chuck Tobin, who leases space on Sixth Street, said he had great respect for the Salvation Army and Caritas, but the two shelters had impacted his ability to lease and sell property on Sixth Street. The only retail in the district was a tattoo shop, a t-shirt store and a convenience store.

“We would like to be able to have clothing and jewelry stores, but it’s very difficult to lease spaces on Sixth Street,” Tobin said. “Consequently, I’m against the PID. It’s a burden on property owners, and for half a million spent since 2004, it’s very difficult for me to see the accomplishments. I think the PID is a waste of money and a burden on the property owners on Sixth Street.”

Two others disagreed. Larry Craddick, of Craddick Furniture, said he saw measurable results from the creation of the PID. Tim League, who leases Craddick’s space for the downtown Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, said the issues of social services and crime downtown were precisely the reason the PID existed.

“There are very tangible projects that we are working on, both short-term and long-term solutions,” League said. “These things don’t happen out of a volunteer effort. Larry Craddick is my landlord, and as to these costs being transferred onto the tenant, I would say I still feel like Sixth Street is a tremendous bargain, as a tenant.”

League promised, if the naysayers would give the 6ixth another six months to a year, they would begin to see some of the fruit of the efforts being made to keep the street clean, orderly and well tended.

“We are going to tackle a lot of these problems and make you proud of Sixth Street again,” League told the critics.

Council Member Chris Riley, a long-time downtown resident, spoke in favor of 6ixth, saying he had seen a lot of encouraging signs in recent years. He echoed League’s comments, saying he thought, given some additional time, property owners would start seeing some of the turnaround efforts on the street.

“We’ve been talking for a long time about how we could make things work better down there,” Riley said. “There are persistent problems that we have recognized for a long time, and, hopefully, we’re going to make things work even better.”

Council voted unanimously to reauthorize the PID, which will run for another five years through 2014. A copy of the PID’s service plan can be found here: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/edims/document.cfm?id=130005

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