Since before the Rhinelander Business Improvement District (BID) was formed in 2006, there has been talk of its dissolution. While talk is still far from out in the open, Downtown Rhinelander Inc. (DRI) is fighting back against rumors of a petition which aims to get rid of the BID.
“We know there is an individual who was included in the BID who was not very happy about it from the beginning,” said DRI president Dan Kuzlik. “And the feedback we’re getting is that he’s circulating a petition.”
Rhinelander businessman Jerry Shidell said he is one of two people circulating the petition. He did not discuss details. “I never agreed with the BID in the first place,” he said. But beyond that, “I have no comment.”
Another downtown business owner, Michael Denis, also admits to being behind the petition. “We don’t want to get into it,” was Denis’ response when asked why.
By state law, the petition can terminate the BID with signatures of a majority – one point more than 50 percent of property owners, based on assessed valuation.
“If you get a couple of BID people like Trig and Specky DeByle, that makes a big difference,” Kuzlik said. “But (petitioners) would need a number of smaller people to sign on to get to that 50 percent.” Supporting the Business Improvement District just makes sense for business, Kuzlik said. “Shoppers like to support businesses that are supporting themselves and the community.”
The concern is that if the BID goes, so would funding of Downtown Rhinelander, Inc.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation works with cities and various Improvement Districts throughout the city. At the beginning of Rhinelander’s BID, the WEDC assisted the city and DRI as the program got up and running. The public information officer said they will work with the city regardless of the petition’s outcome.
“The decision of whether to dissolve a BID is something best left to the residents and officials of that community,” said WEDC Public Information Officer Mark Mayley. “WEDC has had success working with communities with BIDs and those without them, and we stand ready to work with Rhinelander – or any Wisconsin community – on its downtown economic efforts.”
In an effort to get a feel for what people downtown are thinking, Kuzlik has spoken with some of the business owners in the district. “Some of them have said, ‘yes, I’ve seen the petition and I’m going to sign it,’ and others are saying they aren’t sure and they need more information. Personally, I have no problem with it. The BID came into being by petition, and so you live by the sword, you die by the sword so to speak. I am just concerned there is a lot of misinformation out there.”
For example, people are saying DRI is deficit spending, according to Kuzlik, who says that is untrue. “Through prudent spending we have built up a surplus of about $160,000. We did very specifically put in the 2014 budget more spending than we projected we’d take in. Rather than having that surplus money in a bank earning one percent interest, we put it to work on projects like the billboard on highway 51, and the ‘I Buy Local’ program.”
Kuzlik also outlined what DRI has accomplished since the BID’s inception. “People always ask, ‘what have you done for us lately?’” He cites economic development, beautification, providing low-interest loans to members, and supporting the city’s Parking Advisory Committee.
A strategic planning session last fall yielded feedback directing DRI to focus on recruiting businesses downtown; a little less on events, more on economic development. In the last two weeks, the executive board has reorganized the staff, eliminating the full-time position of office assistant. The board has instead hired a contracted recruiter, Sally Latimer, to go out to surrounding communities and knock on doors, charged with recruiting by selling the attributes Rhinelander has to offer.
“Another disappointment is that we’ve reached out to our bid members in a number of ways, and we’ve asked them to assist us in planning,” according to Kuzlik. “A number of people came out and gave us great feedback, but the petitioners and those signing the petitions never came out, never said a thing. No feedback whatsoever. Good news is some of the concerns we are hearing about have been addressed in this strategic plan.”
In the end, Kuzlik believes strongly that losing the BID, and DRI would not be good for downtown, economically or strategically.
“That’s a great advantage that other communities don’t have,” he said. “We would be very disappointed to see DRI go away; (paying into the BID) is a way for downtown businesses to support themselves at an additional level.”