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A special improvement district in Princeton inches closer to reality

Princeton businesses on Nassau Street during a calm summer evening.

Work continues to be underway as Princeton moves closer to establishing a Special Improvement District (SID) in the municipality.

A SID pools resources from commercial businesses to increase the economic value of a commercial corridor and is predominately governed by property owners.

In December, the public and the Princeton Council received a presentation regarding an Economic Revitalization feasibility study that was commission by the council.

The Princeton Council also recently approved a third phase of funding for consultant Stuart Koperweis of Economic Development Strategists, LLC, who was originally retained to help formulate a strategy for an economic revitalization plan to address challenges facing the Princeton business community.

The council approved a third and final phase of $17,500 in funding to retain Koperweis on Dec. 21. He will work with the Steering Committee and non-profit District Management Corporation setting up the bylaws and the budget, as part of Phase 3.

“This would get us into the phase of writing ordinances, doing bylaws, creating a district management corporation, and moving forward there would be two public hearings,” Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros said on Dec. 21, “one on the ordinance and one on the budget that would be proposed.”

An ordinance establishing the SID will be created and introduced in 2022.

The SID services include maintenance, such as sidewalk cleaning, business development in an effort to reduce commercial vacancy and improve business mix, providing special events and promotional materials, and capital improvements (custom trash receptacles and custom news boxes).

The Princeton Steering Committee in the study process, which consisted of business leaders, business property owners and civic organizations, had determined and recommended that the creation of a SID was the best option and in the best interest of Princeton, according to the Feasibility Study released mid-December.

A non-profit District Management Corporation (Princeton Business Partnership, Inc.) would oversee the daily activities to comply with the SID statute and hire a professional management team to make certain the implementation of services is immediate.

The Steering Committee discussed three specific options, which were the creation of a not-for-profit Economic Development Corporation (EDC), hiring an officer for economic development, or establishing a SID, before determining a SID was the best option for Princeton.

According to the Steering Committee, a SID is more economically feasible and helps gather funds quickly to deliver the services provided by the SID.

A budget for the SID has not been set, but the plan is to assess businesses at a figure that is comparable to membership in the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA). A special assessment is paid by businesses benefiting to fund SID services.

According to the study, the assessment area rates would be based on all the property taxes paid for each block and lot. Designated areas are Nassau Street, Witherspoon Street, Jugtown, 206 North, Dinky 7, Harrison, Palmer Square, PSC, Poor Farm Road and other.

Outside of SID relying on assessments from commercial property owners, the way the SID is expected to be structured would also allow for the SID to apply for alternative funding.

The Steering Committee did make the decision to exempt nonprofits. Nonprofit properties that are used for commercial use would be assessed at their level in their designated area.

The retaining of Koperweis, the creation of a Steering Committee, and the feasibility study comes as businesses and the municipality continue to navigate the pandemic.

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