Thursday, March 10, 2011

Neon Yellow Hats - The New Rage

Maybe you’ve seen them. Blue jackets, bright neon shirts, and matching stocking caps with the letter “I” embroidered on the front. They are the Downtown Improvement District’s (DID) ambassadors. The DID was formed in early 2009 after many years of planning by the Minneapolis Downtown Council. The goal of the DID is “to support, preserve, create and enhance a vibrant, competitive and thriving downtown that attracts and retains businesses, employees, residents and visitors” [1]. In order to maintain regional competitiveness business leaders in downtown saw in necessary to make sure their streets and sidewalks were clean, sidewalks free of snow, and looking their best.

DID ambassadors cover over 120 blocks and over 30 miles of street frontage [2] in downtown (map displayed in 2009 Annual Report) and offer a variety of services including graffiti removal, trash pickup, pedestrian assistance, and street planting/maintenance. The initial budget (2009) of the DID was $6.5 million, but would change annually. In order to pay for these services, the over 550 property owners were assessed annual fees “based on lineal frontage for some services, such as snow removal and litter pickup. Payment for other services, such as repair of light fixtures and seasonal plantings, would be based on a property’s gross building area” [3]. This assessment is similar to a local option sales tax in that its geographic base is limited to specific blocks in the downtown area, but the fees are not directly applied to the end user. Special assessments, as defined by the City of Minneapolis are “a fee collected by the City for improvements or services the City provides that benefit your property” [4] and typically can include enhancements to street lighting, sewer improvements, park facilities, or street improvements. The DID specializes in on-going maintenance within its jurisdiction rather than a one time assessment for improvements to your curb and gutter. The Minneapolis model was based off other major metropolitan areas including Denver, Washington D.C., Seattle, and Portland. To attract business and tourists (which can be difficult during a Minnesota winter) a simple assessment can go a long way in showcasing what a city has to offer. Even if what it has to offer is buried under 70-some inches of dirt-covered snow.


[2] DID 2009 Annual Report,



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