By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- A new arts and tourism district in Strasburg could draw more businesses downtown, according to supporters of the proposal.
Town Council at a work session Monday endorsed adopting an ordinance that would create an arts and tourism district. After some debate on the matter, a majority of council agreed the district should cover a smaller area than proposed originally by town staff and the ordinance committee.
The intent of the ordinance is to provide incentives for certain types of businesses to locate in the district, Town Manager Judson Rex explained to council. Incentives include a discount on the business owner's utility bill of up to 50 percent and the elimination of the license fee for five years.
Officials advised that while the incentives -- such as discounts on utility costs and license fees -- could attract businesses, the town may see a loss in revenue. But the incentives should spur owners to put the extra cash back in their businesses and, coupled with more proprietors locating in the district, would ideally bring more revenue to the town, officials said.
Rex explained to council the fiscal impact to the town based solely on if the incentives were implemented and used by the existing businesses in the proposed district. The town could lose an estimated $33,000 in revenue to the three impacted funds, according to Rex.
Several council members supported the utility bill discount but set at a sliding scale, giving a high percentage cut to those businesses that use less water, a smaller reduction for those that use more. The sliding scale will be included in the proposed ordinance when it comes back before council.
The proposed ordinance calls for the creation of the district, which would span West and East King Street, from Capon Street to the railroad tracks past Acton Place. Several council members expressed a need to include Hotel Strasburg, at 213 S. Holliday St., in the district because of its connection to downtown businesses and tourism.
At least one council member said he supported creating a district with all four areas included as originally proposed and presented at the meeting. The district as endorsed calls for the area to include South Holliday Street from King Street, past Queen Street, and to cover Hotel Strasburg.
According to a map of the proposed district, the area extends north almost to Washington Street. The original proposal included an area north of King Street, covering Washington Street from the railroad tracks to Capon Street. The proposed map also includes two more areas -- Queen Street from Capon Street to the railroad tracks, and High Street from Capon Street to South Massanutten Street.
Rex explained to council that they could at any time in the future add the other areas to the district. Some council members expressed an interest in keeping the district small at first to see if the incentives work. Others wanted to include all areas, even at the risk of a higher fiscal impact to the town.