Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Old Town, recently got his annual bill from the Lansing Principal Shopping District for about $1,000 that goes toward beautifying, maintaining and promoting the business corridor from I-496 to Old Town between Larch Street and Capitol Avenue.
“As a property owner, it is confusing if I am getting an equitable value from my property (to support PSD),” Preuss said. “Do I support the idea of PSD? Yes. You don’t get something for nothing. But the more money I spend on taxes that I don’t see in my community makes me less comfortable.”
In 2008, the PSD restructured itself to diversify its activities, and it hired Mindy Biladeau as executive director to bring those changes about. How is the organization, which has asked the Lansing City Council to approve a name change to Downtown Lansing, Inc., doing two years later?
Biladeau has increased the marketing and promotional activities and overseen the reorganization of PSD while also greatly increasing how much it ended up in the black. It had $7,126 left at the end of FY 2008 and $60,261 left at the end of FY 2009 on June 30. However, the PSD still has its critics.
The mission of the PSD is to enhance the downtown area by assessing property owners fees that go to general maintenance, special events promotion and beautifying that area. Some property owners are happy to be part of a burgeoning downtown, while others wonder if they are getting a fair amount of that money back.
The PSD is split into four zones (A, B, C north and C south), and business property owners in each zone are assessed a different rate based on their location. Zone A is downtown and Zone B is Old Town. The 2009 fiscal year budget for PSD was $485,065, and Old Town property owners contributed about $22,500 to that. In return, the Old Town Commercial Association received a grant from PSD for $11,000 for general maintenance and special events —about half of what Old Town property owners contributed to the fund.
“In Old Town, we are taking care of ourselves, and I think PSD is comfortable with that,” said Don McNabb, board president for OTCA. “The impression held in Old Town is that PSD has put more into downtown than other jurisdictions. Downtown is doing great, but there are still so many things to be done in the PSD area.”
Particularly, McNabb added, how PSD is using their money. “Overall, I would give them a B .”
Worrying about his own business doesn’t leave much time for Preuss to mull PSD’s efficiency.
“I spend my time worrying about the business. But I would like to know the efficiency factor of what PSD charges us: How much is too much? How much is not enough?” Preuss asked. “I don’t know enough about them to give a grade.”
The PSD took its current form in 1996 when property owners collectively voted to be assessed fees that would go toward maintaining the corridor. PSD is both a geographical area as well as a business entity that oversees allocation of money collected from more than 1,000 businesses in four zones. Property owners are charged per square foot on first floor property, upper levels, parking lots and ramps, vacant land and industrial property. The highest rate is in Zone A for first floor businesses at 13 cents per square foot. Vacant and upper-level industrial property costs about 1 cent per square foot. Biladeau said Lansing has some of the lowest assessment rates for downtown development in the state.
“I have only positive things to say about PSD. Downtown is the best it has been in over 35 years,” said David Kositchek, who has owned and managed Kositchek’s at 113 N. Washington Square for 40 years. “I see PSD as a support system to address a myriad of issues, but businesses still have to be strong on their own.”
Kositchek acknowledged that some businesses have different perceptions of the PSD. “PSD won’t please everyone but I think they are trying their best. They deserve an A.”
Lenny Burns, owner of Kelly’s Downtown, 203 S. Washington, wants to see accountability by PSD clearly showing how his assessments are spent.
“I give them an ‘I’ for incomplete. I’d like to say ‘They did this’ or ‘They did that’ but I just don’t know,” he said. “But I’m sure they are hardworking people up there.”
Timothy Havis, an attorney at Havis Law Offices, which is east of the PSD, was having a cocktail as Burns expressed his concern about the PSD. Havis pointed to what he considers disorganization within PSD to account for some of the negative attitudes.
“They oversee hundreds of thousands of dollars. They may be doing a great job, but no one seems to know what they do for sure,” he said. “There is a lack of organization when letting people know.”
When Biladeau was hired in 2008, she said PSD — referring to roads and sidewalks —was “maintenance heavy” and wants to focus more efforts on public relations, advertising and special events.
At the heart of these assessments is whether property owners judge PSD on an individual basis or for the greater good of Lansing.
“It’s not how well each business does alone, it’s about downtown as a whole,” Biladeau said. “You are always going to have challenges when reorganizing or building from the ground up, but there have been more rewards than challenges. Look at downtown: It is alive and well and rocking.”