From World War II to the 1960s, downtown Richmond was a bustling hub of commerce and culture, including banks, theaters, saloons and other businesses before its slow and steady decline.
But now property owners and business leaders there say the commercial area is on its way up, and their confidence brought them together to support a new business district that will pool their money for continuing investments in the area.
The City Council on Tuesday approved the formation of a Downtown Richmond Property and Business Improvement District, which was earlier voted in by downtown Richmond property owners.
"Over the past decade, Richmond Main Street has done great things in downtown Richmond. We've increased traffic downtown, improved cleanliness and safety," said Amanda Elliott, executive director of the Richmond Main Street Alliance, which helped organize the efforts to create the district. "We are growing."
Councilman Corky Booze cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that less than half the approximately 40 affected property owners cast ballots to form the new assessment district. Elliott said 16 owners cast votes, with three-quarters approving.
"Those who didn't vote shouldn't have to pay it," Booze said. "I can't support something like this because I have people down there who can't really afford to pay."
Earlier this year, a petition was circulated among business owners to judge support for forming the district. At that
State law requires approval of more than 50 percent of ballots returned after 45 days. Of the 16 returned ballots, 12 property owners voted yes and four voted no.
Although just 16 ballots were cast, the property owners collectively own 88 percent of the total taxable square-footage in the district, said Janet Johnson, a project manager in the Richmond City Manager's office.
The new district will be funded by $0.12 per-square-foot fees assessed on commercial properties and $0.05 on nonprofits, according to city staff reports. The assessment should raise about $183,000 annually, including $31,522 from the city, which owns property within the district. The revenue will be used for cleaning, maintenance, security, marketing and promotions in Richmond's historic downtown.
The new district is bound by Sixth Street, Barrett Avenue, Nevin Avenue and Harbour Way.
The main artery through the old downtown is Macdonald Avenue. By the time Hilltop Mall opened at the city's northern outskirts in the late 1970s, Macdonald Avenue was drained. The lively scrum of merchants and customers had become rows of hollow buildings and wandering transients.
But Tuesday's vote represents a continuation of recent years' successes, supporters say, as downtown has returned to life, thanks in part to festivals, the growth of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, the BART transit station and public arts and garden projects. The improvement funds could accelerate the growth.
"I'm really excited about this," said Councilman Tom Butt. "This is a big, big deal."
Darlene Drapkin, a Richmond resident and who handled the early outreach for consulting firm Civitas Advisors, said that major property owners such as Kaiser Hospital, BART, and the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts were among the yes votes, however, she was unable to contact one major property owner -- T&T Richmond LLC, owner of the shopping center anchored by a Food Co. grocery store. The property owner ended up voting no, she said.
"We tried to contact them long and hard," Drapkin said. "The ballot came back with a return address in Orange, California."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers