WALNUT CREEK -- Costs for local businesses may soon go up, as the City Council supports raising the fees charged to downtown businesses for both the south and north business improvement districts.
At a City Council meeting Feb. 4, officials with Walnut Creek Downtown -- formerly known as the Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association -- presented their plans for how to use the $200,000 in revenue from the BIDs to help pay for promotions, marketing and events such as the Wine Walk and Restaurant Week. The north and south BIDs have been around since 2005 and 2010, respectively.
This is the first time the fee structure will be changed and fees will go up for all businesses -- dramatically for some.
The reason -- with the current fee structure, a large anchor tenant such as Nordstrom pays about 1 cent a square foot while a small business pays about 13 cents a square foot.
"We are not saying that has to be exactly equal but we are trying to equalize it out a little bit," Brian Hirahara, president of Walnut Creek Downtown, said at the City Council meeting.
The changes may mean large increases for some, with more tiers based on square footage at different cost increments. In the north district, businesses up to 2,500 square feet will pay $270; last year they paid $225. And in both districts, an 8,000-square-foot store will pay $1,000. Last year, the charge was $500.
The biggest jump is for a store such as Nordstrom, which was charged $1,000 last year and the cost will jump to $10,000 under the new fee structure.
Councilwoman Loella Haskew asked whether Walnut Creek Downtown had heard any feedback from its members on the new fees.
Association staffers said they had notified their members but had not yet heard any feedback.
But property owners still get a chance to weigh in. While the council on Feb. 4 passed the resolutions to levy the assessments, there will be public hearings on March 18 and April 1. Any businesses that want to protest must do so before April 1. The fees can't be levied if owners representing 50 percent or more of the assessments proposed to be levied protest.
Councilwoman Cindy Silva said that because of competition from other cities and the impact of Broadway Plaza's remodel, which will close many stores and cause construction-related inconveniences, the association's plans are important.
"It's not a time for them to retrench -- it's time for them to kick it into high gear," she said.
Along with the report on the improvement district, Hirahara described what was in store for the downtown in 2014, including a plan to have the food truck giant Off the Grid come downtown on Wednesday nights. New events the association may put on include a craft beer festival, Walnut Creek Fashion Week and a gourmet wine walk.
Walnut Creek Downtown has been without an executive director after longtime director Emily Chang left last year, but he indicated it's likely a new director will be hired after the group finishes its reorganization.
Hirahara mentioned also said the 2013 idea of yet another improvement district, which would have charged downtown businesses even more for beautification and unified branding efforts, will not happen at this time. The downtown is, in a way, a victim of its own success, he said.
"We have a lot of property owners who say 'I am getting $5 a square foot and I haven't put a nickel in my property for 30 years, so why should I?' " Hirahara said. "We were trying to be ahead of the curve, understanding the mall is going to go through an expansion and we wanted to keep up with their improvements ... and also cities like San Ramon that are gunning at us."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.