Downtown Divided

Posted June 11, 2009 in News

As downtown Pomona reaches the middle of 2009, the struggle for economic prosperity continues. Inside the 42-block radius of Pomona’s Business Improvement District (PBID), change comes at the expense of the property and business owners supporting it with money from their bottom-line profits.


But is this change giving everyone in downtown enough bang for their buck? With funds pooled from property owners and administered by the Downtown Pomona Owners Association (DPOA), the PBID creates an extra tax to pay for maintenance, security, marketing and services to upkeep the area for patrons. These are services that some business owners view as the “life support” of the district.


“I’ve talked to some merchants around here and they say that the PBID is the only thing that’s keeping them here,” says A.S. Ashley, business owner, local resident and chair of the Pomona Arts Colony Association, adding that downtown crime was rampant before the PBID helped turn it around.


On June 4, the Pomona City Council voted to allow the re-certification of the PBID to move forward as a ballot measure voted on by business and property owners in the district. The ultimate fate of the tax will be voted on by all 252 downtown businesses and property owners via mail-in ballot by July 20. If  passed, it continues on the road to being reinstated for a period of 10 years after its current five-year term.


“Usually it takes a PBID about 10 years to find its footing,” says Ashley. “So, in my opinion, we’re sort of, like, at the minimum halfway [mark] through our process. And we’ve made terrific strides.”


Several productive years of increased retail presence and the resurgence of downtown nightlife—the renovated Fox Theater—on West Garey Avenue and Second Street, are concrete examples of that. 


Much of the maintenance and protection of the downtown has been done at relatively slim cost according to DPOA Executive Director Larry Egan. Their current budget stands at around $804,000. Of that, the PBID received around $770,000 due to late pays and non-payment on some properties. These funds are used for everything from landscaping to hiring two full-time police officers for the district’s 42 blocks.


However there are business and property owners who disagree with the way the PBID is using its funds and resources.


David Armstrong, owner of Armstrong Galleries east of Garey, originally supported the PBID. But since the downtown has shifted attention toward nightlife, he says businesses on Antique Row and outlying areas are not heavily considered on the PBID list of benefits, despite his agreement that landscaping and marketing of the downtown are needed. Still, he and other businesses around him are not excited about paying extra for more cops.


“I don’t think it’s fair to demand that those businesses still expounding in family-oriented businesses be required to pay for this extra security downtown because it’s to the benefit of a few at the expense of many.”


Linda Hedden, manager of a nine-story building on South Park Avenue, says that Pomona’s current PBID isn’t offering her any benefit not already paid for by her business. She even went so far as to write a letter to the city’s redevelopment agency asking to be removed from the PBID boundaries.


Ironically, members on both sides of the argument use other famous PBIDs, in areas like Hollywood, as shining examples for their cause to either move forward or reconsider the mechanism. With less than 40 days until July 20, the re-certification of the PBID has created a downtown divided. The question is how will property owners drop their guard to reach a conclusion?


“One of the outcomes of that meeting [on June 4] was that the city did agree that there are mutual interests that we should work out,” Egan says. “That’s a good thing.”


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