Votes in support of funding for Niles DDA Main Street

NILES — Last week, about 12,000 people visited downtown Niles to see ice sculptures and warm up at local businesses. The 15th annual event was managed by the Niles DDA Main Street and is hailed by local companies as a way to put them on the map and help them pay the bills. The event is one of many things the downtown organization seeks to do to promote local business.

On Monday night, Niles city council members discussed whether or not to renew the Niles DDA Main Street’s tax increment financing plan, a significant source of the organization’s revenue. The TIF expired in December. Without the TIF, Lisa Croteau, the Niles DDA Main Street director, said the DDA would “cease to exist.”

Croteau was in the audience Monday night as she listened to council members debate the renewal and whether TIF funds might better be used in the city’s general fund. After a public hearing, council members voted unanimously to support the DDA’s TIF renewal for the next 15 years.

City administrator Ric Huff emphasized that the TIF renewal will not change the amount of taxes that business owners or residents in the downtown district would pay. He explained that the TIF was created 40 years ago when a baseline property assessment of downtown buildings was completed. As property taxes grew, the difference between the baseline and current property value was captured as a TIF and allocated to the DDA for reinvestment in the downtown area. The TIF has captured about $45,000 a year.

“It’s not a new tax. It’s not an additional tax,” Huff said. “[The Niles DDA Main Street’s] motivation is the more they can get the property values to increase in that district, through rehabilitation or sales in that area, this increases that difference between 40 years ago and today, thus giving them more revenue.”

Council member John DiCostanzo said that if the city approves to renew the TIF, they are forgoing revenue to the general fund.

City leaders also pointed out that while the Niles DDA Main Street’s role is to promote economic vitality in the downtown corridor, the entity was initially supposed to take care of tasks like clearing sidewalks of snow and parking lot maintenance. However, there has not been a budget for those tasks, so these tasks had been picked up by the city.

Huff said if the Niles DDA Main Street is successful in garnering more funding, there would be an expectation to potentially have the downtown organization cover the cost of these tasks.

Council member Jessica Nelson said the full scope of the DDA’s work could be seen in more than just what the organization brings in financially. She said her husband, Charles Nelson, who owns On Base Productions in downtown Niles, got help from the Croteau.

“He would not even be there if it was not for being able to talk to Lisa and figure out when the buildings were going to be open,” Nelson said. “That was something the DDA was uniquely positioned to help him do. Those stories are just as valuable as any hardline metrics.”

Other council members emphasized the Niles DDA Main Street’s efforts. Council member Georgia Boggs described Croteau as “an asset” to the city.

Following the meeting Monday night, Croteau said she felt that the votes showed support of the Niles DDA Main Street and their efforts.

“I’m very thrilled that it was all eight [council members] in favor,” Croteau said.

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