Blackstone district

A view of the Blackstone District in midtown Omaha.

The Blackstone Business Improvement District wants to expand its boundaries and tweak the way it charges property owners.

Such business improvement districts — there are several across the city — are allowed under state law to collect a special fee to pay for services beyond what the city provides.

Those services can include picking up trash and providing extra security within the specific area in which the property owners pay the fee.

Tuesday, the Omaha City Council heard mostly support for the plan during a public hearing. Supporters said they’ve seen good results from the existing business improvement district and want the momentum to continue in the Blackstone neighborhood.

But attorney Myron Kaplan opposed it on behalf of his client, Belgrade Holdings Ltd. Partnership, which owns three apartment buildings in the area. Kaplan argued that business improvement districts mostly benefit commercial property owners and that his client would get only some tangential benefits.

He noted that two other business improvement districts in the city, those in Dundee and downtown, charge residential property owners less than commercial property owners. But the Blackstone proposal would charge all commercial and multifamily property owners the same.

Right now, roughly 40 properties in Blackstone along Farnam Street from about 42nd to 36th Streets pay an assessment based on their property’s footage that fronts the street. The district spent $21,000 in 2017.

Under the expansion proposal, the district’s boundaries would include about 200 properties and stretch from Dodge Street to Dewey Avenue and from 42nd to roughly 35th Streets. The assessment would be 90 cents per $1,000 of the property’s total assessed value, though valuations would be capped at $5 million.

Owner-occupied properties, like residential homes, would be exempt.

If approved, some property owners would pay more, and some would pay less than right now, said Deputy City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch.

For example, the owners of the Noli’s Pizzeria building at 4001 Farnam paid $954.45 last year.

Under the new methodology, they’d pay $510, in den Bosch said. Others, like Kiewit Plaza at 3555 Farnam, would pay $4,500, he said. The building last year wasn’t part of the district, so its owners paid nothing.

Those numbers assume that the district spends its entire $70,280 budget next year. If the district spent less, the property owner’s assessments would be less, in den Bosch said.

Adrian Hernandez, the Blackstone Improvement District’s volunteer president, said the district’s budget hasn’t always been able to keep up with requests from the neighborhood. The district helps pay for extra cleaning and maintenance, security, marketing and beautification in the area. If the expansion proposal is approved, the district can continue to do those projects in a bigger area.

Developer Jay Lund said there’s been some confusion that the business improvement district proposal is related to an earlier proposal to impose new taxes to help restore the Blackstone Hotel, though the two are separate. The council earlier this month approved an enhanced employment area for Blackstone, which includes a new 1.95 percent tax on food and drinks at some Blackstone businesses.

Lund, who supports expanding the Blackstone business improvement district, pointed out that the proposal would affect him as a significant property owner in the area.

The council is set to vote on the expansion proposal next week., 402-444-1309


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