What is a downtown improvement district?

A downtown improvement district (DID), also known as a special service district by MN state law, is a private organization that is operated to promote business district revitalization and management. Funding comes primarily from charges determined by the organization’s Board of Directors that are assessed by the City and Ramsey County on a fiscal-agent basis against eligible commercial properties within defined boundaries through the special assessment line of property tax invoices. Voluntary contributions can also be accepted by the organization from properties exempt from assessment, including government, certain nonprofit, and residential parcels.

The funds are used to provide services for the mutual benefit of the properties being assessed, such as:

  • Creating a cleaner, safer and more attractive business district
  • Helping to increase property values, sales and occupancies
  • Providing non-bureaucratic and innovative management
  • Promoting a distinct identity or brand for a business district
  • Creating a unified voice to elevate a business district’s influence
  • Ensuring a stable and predictable funding base
  • Responding quickly to market changes and community needs
  • Leveraging additional improvement resources
  • Maximizing accountability to stakeholders that pay
Isn’t this something the City should be doing?

No.  A DID is intended to provide an enhanced range of services within the designated district that the City is not financially able or professionally staffed to provide, including sidewalk sweeping and pressure washing, landscaping, signage, graffiti removal, placing trained ambassadors in the field, and other desired services.  DIDs throughout the country have been created because the private sector recognizes that the public sector cannot deliver the level of service on an affordable basis that private property and business owners demand. DIDs can provide quality, impactful services squarely in the control of private property and business owners already adept at leveraging investment into results. A DID would not relieve the City of its basic responsibilities for which property taxes are paid and in fact provide a means for ensuring that the City actually performs its responsibilities.

Would a DID make it easier for the City to reduce their commitment within the district?

No.  The formation of a DID would be conditional on a commitment from the City of Saint Paul to maintain its current levels of service within a potential downtown improvement district.

Who controls the funds a DID receives?

DIDs are business led and business managed.  They are governed and directed by a Board of Directors and operating committees comprised of commercial property owners, property managers, employers and private sector stakeholders. DIDs often utilize private sector contracting policies and require exemptions to City procurement and labor requirements.

The Board of Directors guides the specifics of DID program elements and revisits the operating plan and budget every year.  Programming can occur in any public space or right of way including sidewalks, skyway easements, parks, public transit infrastructure, etc.

Is participation in a DID voluntary?

Any property that is exempt from assessment can voluntarily participate in the funding of a DID.  Once the required threshold of financial support from the private sector has been established for a given geographic district, all properties that are properly assessible under Minnesota law are obligated to participate.  However, the Board of Directors of a DID can draw the boundaries however it chooses and add or eliminate parcels if it chooses to do so.

How are boundaries of the DID determined?

The boundaries of a DID are determined by property owners and their tenants and are typically intended to capture the core of a commercial or visitor district of downtown.

Is a DID a government program?

No.  A DID is an entirely private undertaking.  Minnesota law requires that the City Council ensure that the DID’s private Board of Directors has been legally constituted and that the City of Saint Paul and Ramsey County properly function as fiscal agents for levying assessments, collecting them as part of property tax payments, and disbursing proceeds to the DID.

Is this a tax controlled by the City?

No. The programs and projects of a DID are run like a business, for businesses, by businesses.

Would the DID be permanent?

No. A DID under Minnesota law requires annual approval of operating plans and budgets and reauthorizations every five years.