It’s been nearly five years since the people in green shirts started roaming downtown Minneapolis streets, helping visitors find their way and keeping sidewalks clean.
The city is close to extending the life of the Downtown Improvement District, which is the nonprofit organization that employs the green-clad ambassadors.
But some downtown property owners in the Warehouse District who pay for the service aren’t happy with the DID and have raised the idea of building a protest that would dissolve the organization.
A number of property owners in the area west of Hennepin Avenue are forming a group called the Warehouse District Improvement Association and asking that the assessments they pay to the DID be cut in half.
“We don’t necessarily want to see the DID go away, but we would definitely like to have our assessment more in line with the services we are receiving,” said Nancy Aleksuk of Swervo Development, the largest property owner in the Warehouse District.
Property owners in the Warehouse District have complained that the ambassadors spend less time in their area and more time on Nicollet Mall. Plus, they say the downtown core is getting more amenities, like plants.
Jim Erickson, a consultant with lots of City Hall connections, is representing Aleksuk and several other property owners.
After a city committee ruled unanimously to approve a new five-year DID agreement, he raised the possibility that the new Warehouse group could organize an objection to the plan, killing the DID.
State law for special service districts says that if 35 percent of 650 downtown property owners object to the assessments, the city ordinance would be cancelled. Those property owners would have 45 days from the ordinance’s passage to file objections. City Council passage is likely coming May 27.
Erickson says some owners simply want out of the agreement, while others want increased service or reduced assessments.
“I raised (a veto) because they should know that that can happen if the process doesn’t go forward favorably for us,” Erickson said.
The DID has a $6.5 million budget, and Erickson says Warehouse District property owners pay $900,000 of that total.
Greg Dolphin owns building in the Warehouse district and also operates fast food and staffing agencies out of them. He called the assessment for the DID “a luxury the small business community in the city of Minneapolis cannot afford.”
Because of an amendment from Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, Warehouse District property owners will be invited to DID meetings to discuss possible changes to the assessments.
DID Chief Executive Officer Mark Stenglein said the Warehouse District property owners have always been welcome at DID meetings, which are public.
Stenglein also said that the downtown ambassadors spend as much, if not more, time in the Warehouse District.
“You could argue that at bar close, the Warehouse District probably gets more — a lot more — service than the rest of (downtown),” he said.
While Warehouse District property owners were airing their grievances at a city hearing, others were praising the program for improving safety and cleaning up downtown.
“It’s amazing what the last five years have (done),” said Bob Greenberg, president of the 614 Company, which owns the Young-Quinlan building on Nicollet Mall.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown, called the DID one of the most successful and loved public-private partnerships in city history.
“Issues with regard to property owners are not uncommon given that everyone wants to push the cost off to someone else,” Goodman said.