Idea to fund downtown Venice improvements

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VENICE, Fla. -- City leaders are looking for a way to help fund improvements downtown, including the possibility of a parking garage. This week, council members got an update on what's called a Community Redevelopment Area, which could use increases in property taxes to fund those projects.

Most downtown Venice business owners, like Shawn Hoover at Ambiguous Orange, say some sprucing up couldn't hurt. "I'd be all for improvements to downtown."

Well, what if there was a way where some of the tax dollars payed here were guaranteed to stay here to do just that? "Wouldn't everybody? I would prefer all my taxes go directly back into areas that affect me and my business."

This week, Venice city council members voted unanimously to look into what is called a Community Redevelopment Area -- basically money generated from the increase in property values from this point on would go into a special fund.

"Those increases in that district would be set aside for use in that district." Council member Emilio Carlesimo says the money could be used for lots of different types of improvements. "It could be used for things like street enhancements, parking garage."

Parking -- a touchy subject for many downtown.

"It's our #1 complaint from customers. They say ‘oh I was going to stop, but I had to park far away," says Hoover.

Carlesimo says just the prospect of money coming into the account could be used as leverage for a loan. He says the City of Sarasota has been involved with a similar plan there, setting aside more than $65 million since 1985. "The number one issue brought to us is parking downtown and maintaining the downtown district."

There are some drawbacks. If not enough money comes in, all city and county taxpayers could end up footing the bill. It also could mean less money for improvements everywhere else in the city. "The money that is set aside for this area does not go into the general fund, which supports the rest of the city."

Support for investigating it has come in from the Chamber of Commerce and Venice Main Street. Many of the business owners we talked to Thursday are just hearing of it.