Business

Beautification district on brink

Olympia city probation work crew member John Ragland steam cleans red graffiti Thursday in an alleyway near Fourth Avenue as part of the city's ongoing beautification work, which is funded by the Parking and Business Improvement area. The PBIA's continued existence is in doubt.
Olympia city probation work crew member John Ragland steam cleans red graffiti Thursday in an alleyway near Fourth Avenue as part of the city's ongoing beautification work, which is funded by the Parking and Business Improvement area. The PBIA's continued existence is in doubt. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - The Parking and Business Improvement Area, a business-funded downtown-beautification district, will cease to exist at the end of the year unless the Olympia City Council takes action to preserve it.

The council will hear from PBIA board members, who are lobbying to keep the district, at its meeting at 7 p.m. tonight in Council Chambers, 900 Plum St. S.E. A public hearing about whether to keep the group is scheduled for Sept. 21.

Proponents say saving the district means a cleaner and more beautiful downtown.

“The most dramatic thing I noticed from day one going forward was the cleanliness,” said Dave Platt, owner of Mailbox of Olympia and chairman of the PBIA board. “To me, it was night and day.”

Business owners who opposed the formation of the district say it’s just another cost for businesses.

“Somehow, I just don’t feel like it’s effective,” said Lisa Owens, owner of The Mark restaurant. “It just seems like another tax on a very small business is what it feels like to me.”

The 70-block district was formed in 2006, but it came with a sunset clause, meaning it would cease operation at the end of 2010 unless the council took action. The board of the organization, better known as the PBIA, unanimously supported asking the city to repeal the sunset clause in March, according to a staff report.

Ruthie Snyder, the city’s liaison, said the PBIA has raised $546,000 in five years; it has been spent on items such as a sidewalk-cleaning Green Machine, hanging flower baskets, a steam cleaner to eliminate graffiti, decorative artist benches and holiday decorations. The board also helps fund the city’s second probation crew, which performs cleanup tasks around town.

Here’s how it works:

Businesses in the district are required to pay yearly dues of $150 to $750, depending on the size and location. The City Council runs the PBIA but generally defers to the organization’s advisory board, 15 volunteers who own businesses in the district. The Olympia Downtown Association keeps the list of businesses that are billed, and the city bills the dues to the members. The names of members who don’t pay are turned over to a collection agency.

There are about 440 businesses, about 40 of which didn’t pay, Snyder said.

Besides beautifying downtown, the PBIA helps bring the business community together, said Janis Dean, owner of Popinjay. And people don’t see how much of a problem graffiti would be if PBIA funds weren’t used to cover it up, said Phil Rollins, owner of Archibald Sisters.

The city’s probation crew, funded by $15,000 of PBIA money, has been responsible for a number of tasks. For example, the group cleaned and fenced off underground passageways in a rail tunnel under Capitol Way near Amanda Smith Way, where homeless people had been sleeping.

The district had 100 flower baskets three years ago and has 140 now, Snyder said.

Owens, who is wary of the PBIA, said she doesn’t want flower baskets hung outside her restaurant.

“They’re paying people to water that kind of stuff,” she said. “To me, it’s kind of exemplary of wasting of funds.”

The probation crew waters the plants and is supervised by a paid city employee.

The group added 10 artist-drawn benches around downtown and plans for four more before the end of the year.

“I think that really celebrating the diversity of downtown and being as inclusive as possible with the community really has been the focus,” Dean said.

A more recent addition from the PBIA has been the “It’s Your Olympia” marketing campaign, including decorative banners and bios of shopkeepers on their windows.

“It was really putting a face on Olympia,” Dean said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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