Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Tax Gets Downtown Berkeley Money for Cleanup, Marketing

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group
Downtown Berkeley will have $1.2 million a year to spend on cleaning the area up, making it safer for visitors and promoting it as a destination following the approval of a new property tax in the area.
In a vote tallied last week, 103 property owners voted for the tax and 73 voted against it. The owners likely will pass the extra tax, based on square footage, on to business owners in the form of higher rents, said John Caner, executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association.
Caner said he anticipates a leadership position in the new Downtown Berkeley Propety-Based Business Improvement District with the approval of its board members when it starts operations Jan. 1.
Business owners currently pay a fee on their business licenses to fund the Downtown Berkeley Association which has a budget of $300,000. That entity will cease to exist when the new organization takes over.
Caner said most of the money for the new organization, about $800,000, will go to keeping the downtown area clean and safe. Another 200,000 will go to advertising and the rest to new employees.
The organization will hire 14 employees to clean and do outreach to the homeless and people with substance abuse problems, Caner said. A program that employs "Host Ambassadors" downtown who currently do outreach most likely will continue, Caner said.
"We know we can do a lot more and a lot better downtown," Caner said. "And we are pledging to spend the money wisely."
Caner said the new district may have a visitor kiosk at the downtown Berkeley BART station, which is slated for a $2 million makeover, courtesy of grant obtained by the city.
In addition, Caner said he is considering chess tables, play structures for kids and more outdoor seating downtown.
Also part of the new association's budget will be about $200,000 a year for advertising, Caners said. That will be used for business attraction and events, like the new outdoor Summer Cinema program where movies will be shown in the Bank of America parking lot every Saturday night in August.
Caner said the organization is working on an advertising strategy for the downtown.
"I think the current message is that downtown Berkeley can be like a living room: something that is welcoming for all Berkeleyans, with the idea of having a fun and vibrant place to enjoy the culture and food," Caner said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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