Ballpark Improvement District Gets Early Nod From Denver City Council | Westword

Ballpark General Improvement District Gets Early Nod From City Council

The added tax and services would address a "doughnut hole" in services in between Lower Downtown and RiNo, according to proponents.
The Ballpark District is closer to becoming a General Improvement District that offers services for businesses and residents. City Council is mostly curious about the GID's plans to handle homelessness in the area.
The Ballpark District is closer to becoming a General Improvement District that offers services for businesses and residents. City Council is mostly curious about the GID's plans to handle homelessness in the area. Kenzie Bruce
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Denver is one step closer to creating a Ballpark General Improvement District (GID) that would collect a special tax from businesses and residents and provide services for the neighborhood, namely for security and homelessness.

The Denver City Council Business Committee approved the creation of the GID for the Ballpark District on Wednesday, June 12. The bill that created the GID and an advisory board still needs two readings from the city council as a whole, with the last one including a public hearing.

The idea of a GID in the Ballpark District started in 2017 to address a "doughnut hole of services," according to Jamie Giellis, former Denver mayoral candidate and former executive director of the River North Arts District (RiNo), who is now consulting for the Ballpark neighborhood.

"Ballpark is the last remaining commercial, mixed-use area in the urban core that does not have some sort of additional special district funding to support it," Giellis explained to councilmembers on Wednesday. "They've been considered the 'doughnut hole of services.' RiNo pretty much stops at Broadway. Downtown services stop at 20th [Street]. The other mix of railroad tracks and highways and roadways cuts them off as well."   

The Ballpark District does have a registered neighborhood organization, the Ballpark Collective. Giellis is an advisor to that group, whose chair members are spearheading the GID creation. Some of its members are also expected to sit on the eleven-member district advisory board, which would also include representatives from City Council District 9, the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure, the Colorado Rockies, and owners of local businesses like Mexico City Lounge and Asterisk. 

Denver currently has four GIDs: 14th Street, Gateway Village, RiNo Denver and Sun Valley. Unlike business improvement districts, or BIDs, a GID can tax residents in addition to business owners and commercial properties, because it's meant to offer services to both communities.

The Ballpark GID would collect revenue with a tax of $5 for every $1,000 of assessed value for every commercial and residential property in the district's boundaries. According to Giellis, the owner of a home valued at $500,000 would expect to pay an annual GID tax bill of around $200 per year, while the owner of a commercial property valued at the same amount would pay around $700 per year.

The first year in tax collections is expected to generate $1.3 million for the Ballpark GID, according to the proposal.

Borders of the Ballpark District GID would be 20th Street to the west, Wewatta and Blake streets to the north and an alley behind Welton Street to the south. The jagged eastern edge would extend as far as 26th Street in some parts and only to Park Avenue West in others.

The GID would overlap with part of the RiNo BID (not the GID) and neighbor both the Five Points and Downtown Denver Partnership BIDs. Those taxes wouldn't overlap for residences or businesses located in multiple districts, and the Ballpark GID would offer services the RiNo GID doesn’t offer, like maintenance work, Giellis tells Westword.

The Ballpark GID would be its own organization, promising to "make sure it's clean," "decrease the cost of doing business in Ballpark" and "ensure Ballpark is a safe and welcoming place," according to Giellis.

Proposed services for businesses in the area include landscaping and vibrant signage, but what councilmembers wanted to know the most was how homelessness in the area would be addressed. 

Giellis told the council that the GID plans to hire Block by Block, an organization out of Kentucky that uses a "de-escalation and navigation model" when working with homeless individuals. Block by Block would hire local staff as "community ambassadors" and train them to move homeless residents by telling them about the housing and jobs programs they need, she said.

"This is not an aggressive policing model. They do not carry guns," she said. "They're the same people on the street seven days a week, 365 days a year. They're getting to know folks, they're getting to figure out how to navigate folks to services."

Block by Block employs homeless residents, as well, Giellis added.
click to enlarge A woman talks at a meeting.
Jamie Giellis explained to the Denver City Council Business Committee how the Ballpark General Improvement District would handle homelessness in the area, which was the committee's top concern.
Bennito L. Kelty
The GID would have to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Denver to coordinate work with homeless residents, Giellis said. The city has similar programs, like the Yellow Vest Ambassadors and the Street Engagement Team, but both of those have recently come under fire by advocates for overreaching.

"These folks can help them, not just say, 'Get out of here' and not just threaten them, but say, 'Where do we need to take you to get you help? What do you need? Do you need medications? Do you need a hot cup of coffee?'" Giellis said. "It can't look like or feel like or be anything that's threatening. These are folks that are going to be dressed in Ballpark-branded polos and khaki shorts, and they're going to be out there just being friendly."

The Block by Block community ambassadors are still meant to add "a safety aspect for the business community and the residents," Giellis said, "by constantly checking in on business owners," adding that the workers "will have a hotline they can call and get an escort to their car." 

Banking on using all projected revenue, the Ballpark GID's first-year budget proposal includes $750,000 for security, homeless navigation and community ambassadors, $300,000 for landscaping, cleaning and infrastructure projects, and a one-time $85,000 cost to organize the GID. 

Last year, the Ballpark District was the site of the largest homeless encampment cleared by Mayor Mike Johnston's House1000 initiative, which moved more than 1,000 people off the streets and into temporary housing in six months via sweeps. Through a sweep in October and another in December, the administration moved more than 200 people out of an encampment that wrapped around the U.S Post Office at 20th and Curtis streets.

Some businesses in the district's planned boundaries, such as Woods Boss Brewing and the Mercury Cafe, have reported taking a hit from homelessness. The Triangle Bar closed in October, with owner Scott Coors saying he worried about security and revenue loss after crimes and building damages in the area. During a recent town hall held by Johnston's administration, a general manager at the British Bulldog said he was stabbed in the throat during a late shift in April. 

Business owners who spoke at Wednesday's meeting were happy with Johnston's House1000 plan, saying it improved the area for their customers and staff. Lisa Franz, owner of Frank's Gentlemen's Salon, at 2111 Larimer Street, says the difference is "night and day since December," when the mayor finished clearing the large encampment at 20th and Curtis.

"The sidewalks are clear. My team, my staff feels a lot safer in coming to work, in leaving work, to take the trash out in the alley," Franz said. "The efforts by the city and mayor have made a huge difference." 

Supporters of the Ballpark GID have already submitted petitions with signatures of support from more than 200 business owners and residents in the area. Letters of support have also come from the three big service providers that support homeless residents in the area — the Denver Rescue Mission, the St. Francis Center and Step Denver, which is a sober-living program.

The Rockies support the GID and have committed to help pay for its formation once it gets approved, Giellis said.

The first reading of the bill creating the GID is expected to take place on June 24, Giellis said, with a second reading and the public hearing on July 8. If the plan is approved at each step, the GID and its special tax would go in front of Ballpark District property owners in the November election.

This article was updated on June 13 to fix errors about GID tax implications and the timeline regarding General Improvement District approval.
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