The city of Tulare looks to hire a consulting firm to determine the best type of property assessment district for the downtown region
TULARE – Next month, the Tulare City Council will make a decision on a consultant to do a special benefits property assessment of the downtown area to help bring additional funding to the area.
On April 10, responses were due to the city’s request for proposal (RFP) for consultants who would examine the feasibility of creating a downtown special benefits property assessment district. Widely considered a special tax district, they are established to provide improvements and services to a specific area and could be beneficial to the downtown area in many ways. The consultant would lay out the benefits and goals for the district as well as the different ways to accomplish those goals.
Though this is not the first time the downtown area has had this idea, this time is a bit different. As Tulare continues with their economic development endeavors, there is more on the line as far as the rehabilitation of the downtown area goes.
“The RFP was kind of broad in the sense that we are just looking for a consultant to tell us if it’s viable and what is the best mechanism?” Traci Myers, Tulare’s economic development manager said. “Because there are so many of them that you can do, what would be the best one.”
The hiring of this consultant is in concert with the city’s efforts to rehabilitate Downtown Tulare. The type of tax district could be a property and business improvement district (PBID), landscape and lighting district, a community facilities district or a street lighting district.
The city knows some type of district will be valuable, but the consultant will be responsible for recommending the specific type of special assessment district most beneficial to the downtown area. The consultant will also be responsible for the development of a database of stakeholders and stakeholder priorities; development of an implementation plan outlining long term needs of the downtown including maintenance, marketing, special events, lighting, landscaping, security and more. Additionally the consulting firm will manage any outreach or communications strategies to stakeholders and have the ability to attend any city council meetings as deemed necessary.
Myers said they expect to make a decision on the consultant mid May. The consultant would be looking at the entirety of the downtown region which is the general area between Cross Street to Inyo Avenue and from J Street to O Street. Specific planning and establishment of the process depends on the type of district being considered and in many cases the formation of a special assessment district requires a formal process and public hearings according to the staff report.
Several years ago, The Tulare Downtown Association (TDA) created the Tulare Improvement Program (TIP). Within this program, there is a fee assessed on businesses in three districts throughout the downtown area. Myers said if a business is in one of those three districts, the TDA collects that fee and their board determines the use for things such as events or safety and security. The city acts as the pass through agency and TIP fees are supposed to be paid by businesses when they pay their business license fees. However, Myers said some businesses have been refusing to pay their TIP fees, which has put the TDA in a tricky spot.
The consultant will analyze the formation of a special taxing district in the downtown and provide recommendations on the management of such a district. The city will likely not add an additional tax district on top of the TIP, but how it will be handled remains to be seen and will be determined when they receive answers from the consultant.
Other Tulare Rehabilitations
Several other projects happening around Tulare are nearing a construction date. The city has partnered with the Tulare Chamber of Commerce to put together a business incubator in the old county courthouse building. The idea behind the incubator is to grow small businesses that are just starting out, some of which were supposed to start years ago, but were derailed by the pandemic. The chamber plans to provide opportunities for its several small businesses in the incubator.
Myers said she has been working with the chamber to finalize the lease agreement which should be brought back to council for final approval, “no later than June.” The project has gone out to bid and Myers said project management is working on getting a contractor to begin the rehabilitation of the building. Once those few things are rolling, the chamber will be able to begin recruiting small businesses who will then be able to begin the application process to be a part of the business accelerator. The other half of the building will be occupied by the Tulare Police Department.
As far as the latest update for Zumwalt Park goes, as of February, Myers said the city will be closing the park in June. That means no more events can be held in the park and the city will hopefully begin the construction process. The city’s intent for the park is to redesign, redevelop and activate the park for everyday recreational use. They will do so by adding an amphitheater, splash pad and children’s playground. In December, the city entered an agreement with Spade Entertainment Group to operate the amphitheater once it is completed.
As far as the downtown rehabilitation grants are going, the city has granted two thus far and continues to vet through others according to Myers. The city has dedicated $1 million in the funding they received from the American Rescue Plan Act (APRA), funding cities received from the federal government as aid resulting from the pandemic, to offer rehabilitation grants. The private sector can apply for these grants if they are renovating a vacant building, in efforts to breathe new life into it. The most recent grant was awarded at the beginning of April to Jocelyn and Michael Lemus for the rehab of their building on Kern Street. It is the old Elks Lodge Building built in 1927, with four store fronts on the street level, a basement and a second floor that used to be a meeting space of some kind.
According to Jocelyn, her and her husband are grateful for the grant funding from the city because it has allowed them to expand some of their renovations. They will be using the funding for mainly code compliance updates like fire sprinkler system, electrical updates and making the building Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
“Since we were able to get this grant funding, that frees up some of our investments to do bigger upgrades that we wouldn’t have been able to do without the grant funding,” Jocelyn said.
The storefront spaces are not completed entirely on the inside, but they currently have a bakery as well as a coffee shop interested in two of the spaces. They will be working with interested parties to determine how they will finish the interior of the spaces to cater to each business. The Lemus’ will continue to work on updates and showing the spaces for interested parties, and hopes to fill at least one of the spaces with a restaurant of some kind.
As for the upstairs, the couple is hoping to keep its original form with the necessary updates. Jocelyn said it is a beautiful and spacious room, and they would like to use it for events, meetings or parties in some capacity. They are currently working with a historic architect and the city to see what can be done about creating a historical district of some kind.