Greg Esser is waiting with “baited breath” for a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling in a recent lawsuit filed by the City of Phoenix challenging a new state law’s application to the Roosevelt Business Improvement District (BID).
The executive director of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation says the city’s lawsuit “bodes well” for the efforts underway for at least the past 16 years to transform downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row area into a vibrant, walkable arts, culture, retail, and entertainment corridor. His organization, which officially filed nonprofit organization papers in 2007, has struggled to raise funds and sustain all of the many tasks associated with the many events the area has become known for. To date, the organization has only at times had one paid staff person to direct its volunteers and is now in transition, he says.
The BID’s boundaries include Fillmore Street on the south, Moreland Street (Hance Park) on the north, 250 feet east of 7th Street on the east, and 7th Avenue on the west. The city passed a resolution approving the special improvement district to provide “enhanced public services” for the area on Jan. 20th of this year.
As part of the BID, special additional taxes need to be assessed on some property owners to cover the enhanced services. Those exempted from taxes include single family home owners, high-rise home owners, and multi-family property owners with less than four units. Commercial or business property owners would pay the bulk of the taxes to support the BID.
However, Esser notes that some entities that otherwise wouldn’t be required to pay the additional taxes for the Roosevelt BID have volunteered to pay them in order to receive what they feel are needed benefits, including Arizona State University.
The idea for the Roosevelt BID, he says, grew out of a yearlong community survey of hundreds of area residents funded by a grant from Artplace America. Yet legislation, sponsored by a Gilbert legislator, passed early this year by the Arizona Legislature, and signed last spring by Gov. Doug Ducey, has caused many to question whether the Roosevelt BID can now move forward.
The City’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 8, seeks a declaratory judgment stating that the state law, known as House Bill 2440, is unconstitutional and unenforceable special legislation, according to a statement from City of Phoenix Communications Director Julie Watters. The new law “does not apply to” the Roosevelt BID, the lawsuit states, because the city adopted a boundary map for it on Nov. 18, 2015, which is before the Jan. 1, 2016, date specified in the legislation.
If the court doesn’t accept that argument, the city is also arguing that making the new law retroactive when only the Roosevelt BID is affected is “unconstitutional special legislation” that “applies only to one member of a class, or to an arbitrarily defined class” and “is not rationally related to a legitimate legislative purpose,” according to the filing. For those reasons, it states, the retroactive nature of the law makes it “a special law” that violates the Arizona Constitution.
The city’s lawsuit also takes issue with Senate Bill 1487, passed this year. It allows legislators to investigate city actions and if the attorney general finds that action violated state law, and the city doesn’t cure it within 30 days, the attorney general may notify the treasurer to withhold state shared money from that city, the lawsuit states. Phoenix’s lawsuit also states that law is “unconstitutional for a variety of reasons” and that the attorney general intends to enforce that law against cities like Phoenix.
Arizona Attorney General’s Office Spokesperson Mia Garcia said their office has “no comment” on the lawsuit.
While Esser is “thrilled” with the city’s efforts to defend its interests, he says, that doesn’t change his organization’s ongoing work to form “a new legal entity” within the next 30 days to reflect the need to “sustain the investments” already made in the geographic area. For example, he is saddened that plants seeded along 3rd Street and Roosevelt are failing for lack of resources to maintain them, he adds.
Among the many reasons the Roosevelt BID is needed, Esser says, is to address the influx of new residents moving into the area in recent years which has grown “beyond the capacity of a volunteer organization to manage.”
Esser is one of those tasked with picking up trash after events, a duty, like many others, that takes up increasing time and energy as crowds grow at events. Other needs include better “navigational tools” to help people discover what the area offers, parking solutions, a better, up-to-date website with an interactive map, social media efforts, and the “resources to respond to needs as they arise,” he says.
The existing Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation Esser leads is a non-profit community development corporation established “to further the unique cultural character and creative assets of the Roosevelt Row Arts District, to advocate for the continuing presence and role of the arts and small business in the revitalization of the district, and to foster a dense, diverse and walkable urban community,” according to its website.
The downtown Phoenix area already has its own BID with boundaries north of Lincoln Street, south of Fillmore Street, from 3rd Avenue to the West, and 7th Street on the east. There are also BIDs operating in Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Tucson, and Flagstaff.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.