Gables business-taxing district votes to expand reach
By Risa Polansky
The Coral Gables Business Improvement District board of directors voted last month to expand the district and revamp its taxation method, three months before property owners will be asked to decide the district's fate.
Owners of commercial property between Douglas and LeJeune roads and Aragon and Andalusia avenues voted to establish the district in 1997, self-imposing a tax of $2.25 for every $1,000 in property value to contribute to advertising and other promotional measures for the area. Property owners voted in 2002 to extend the district's life.
Owners will decide the district's fate again in May. The state requires development districts to face reelection every five years.
The board's decision to expand means property owners one block north — including merchants on Giralda Avenue's Restaurant Row — would be included in the upcoming vote if the city commission approves the expansion and reelection.
A city resolution would include a taxation formula based on ground-floor area rather than property value — approximately 31 cents per ground-floor square foot for Miracle Mile properties and about 25 cents for non-Mile properties.
To reinstate the district, each of the 101 property owners in the existing area and, pending city approval of the expansion proposal, 24 in the expanded area must cast a vote and a majority must be in favor.
"Our challenge this time around is we have a lot of new owners," said Mari Molina, the district's executive director. "It's so frustrating to know we might get the rug pulled from underneath the work we've done. If we aren't reelected, everything you see in downtown Coral Gables would be gone."
Retailers in the district have been supportive, she said.
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, called the district "a good thing" that has helped establish an identity for downtown.
Giralda merchants have asked to be included, Ms. Molina said.
The district distributed tax rebates in October, aware that assessed property values and district taxes doubled last year from 2005.
The district's board adopted the square-footage formula to stabilize tax bills, Ms. Molina said. "We can tell them what their BID tax is and what it's going to be in the next five years."
One property owner said the district tax is inconsequential in light of rising property values and insurance costs. "It certainly was a burden of some sort, something to tack on top of real estate taxes," said Miracle Mile property owner Bassam Taha. "But no matter what they do, it's irrelevant. It makes no sense for anyone to be thinking about a small part and not be concerned about the bigger picture."