Tuesday the Urban County Council took an important step toward making our community's gradually improving downtown even more vital.
The council voted to place a proposal to create a downtown management district on its agenda tonight and to have a public hearing, and possible final approval, on it next week.
The last two winters have made the case for enacting a management district in downtown Lexington.
While the city did a great job keeping the streets clear for drivers, it was almost impossible to navigate sidewalks to get to work or entertainment, conduct business with government or exercise downtown.
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A management district would, presumably, place a high priority on clearing sidewalks so that people who can drive downtown would be able to get out of their cars without putting their limbs at risk.
But the potential benefits go well beyond that.
A management district, as the supporters explained, is similar to a homeowners' association. Property owners agree to assess a tax — 10 cents per $100 of assessed property in this case — on themselves to pay for maintenance and improvements.
The 1,200 or so management districts in the U.S. make urban areas cleaner, safer, more attractive and welcoming. They do not replace city services but offer added amenities like daily trash pickup, power washing sidewalks and improved wayfinding.
Those are often places other cities want to emulate. Danny Murphy spoke for Commerce Lexington, which leads annual trips to study economic development successes in other cities. He noted that all but three of those visited since 1973 have management districts. "We've witnessed firsthand the impact these districts have on downtowns," he said.
Of course, it's a hard sell to suggest anyone pay more taxes even if, as in this case, the property owners themselves are petitioning for the tax.
In the proposed Lexington district, 51 percent of the taxpaying properties, representing 62 percent of the assessed valuation, have signed a petition to create the district. Several of those spoke in favor of the district Tuesday.
In many places, property owners who once opposed districts have become supporters. That happened in Louisville where a district was approved in the early 1990s with only 35 percent of owners. It still exists, having been reapproved and expanded several times with much broader support.
Finally, the proposal includes the ultimate protection — a sunset clause to dissolve it after five years, if it isn't reauthorized. If the district doesn't do the work and provide the value anticipated, it will cease to exist.