Biddeford City Hall looms behind a buzz of activity on the city's Main Street on Wednesday. The city is weighing whether to eliminate its Downtown Development Commission amid its plans to seek downtown improvement district designation. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Biddeford City Hall looms behind a buzz of activity on the city’s Main Street on Wednesday. The city is weighing whether to eliminate its Downtown Development Commission amid its plans to seek downtown improvement district designation. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Biddeford’s Downtown Development Commission is up for elimination following approval of the city’s $31.3 million municipal budget on May 24.
 
City Manager Jim Bennett said Wednesday the city is considering eliminating the commission, or at the very least changing its role, as the city seeks downtown improvement district designation to bolster economic activity in the city center.
 
Development districts are areas within municipalities to be developed under specific programs designed to provide new employment opportunities while retaining existing employment, broaden the tax base and create an aesthetically pleasing and safe downtown environment.
 
Bennett said the city has budgeted more than $80,000 for the district, which he said would go toward independently-staffing a board of directors who, working with business owners and community organizations, would raise and allocate funds for purposes in the downtown.
 
The need to fund the $8,200 requested by the DDC — $6,000 of which went to efforts to clean up the downtown — Bennett said, wasn’t seen as necessary.
 
“(The DDC is) either going to end up changing their role to some degree or end up going away,” he said Wednesday. “That’s going to be a discussion they’ll have to have.”
 
The commission’s goal is to encourage new growth in the downtown, as well as maintaining existing commercial businesses in addition to overseeing recommendations pertaining to use of the area.
 
Bennett said the DID designation will take care of the same goals, while moving those responsibilities away from the city. For the first year, he said, the DID will be funded with public money but in the future, the city won’t be in charge of that.
 
“The DID is being funded in excess of $80,000 for the same purposes (as the DDC) and so there’s a significant investment that’s being done now,” he said. “The idea is that after this year the private, not-for-profit corporation, which has nothing to do with the city, will take over the leadership of that, instead of having a city committee … handle that responsibility.”
 
The group won’t have to go away entirely, Bennett said, as the commission can resume its duties as a policy board, making recommendations to the City Council.
 
While Bennett said the group has been successful in its efforts to clean up the downtown and build a coalition of local business owners, city staff thinks those business owners should have more say in changes to the city’s downtown than should a taxpayer-funded commission.
 
“We think those decisions ought to be made by the businesses themselves independent of municipal government,” he said. “One of the goals is to have it be totally independent from the city rather than have a city function determine (those decisions).”
 
He also said the commission’s work “made a bit of difference” but didn’t accomplish all of the city’s goals related to development in the city center.
 
“It made a but of difference, but just kind of scratching the surface as opposed to doing it in a way that I think will make a major difference in what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
 
— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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