Banker’s Hill forming Micro Business District

Posted: June 27th, 2011 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Business owner Jake Sutton led a discussion group of about 20 small business owners in Banker’s Hill at Sanfilippo’s Restaurant on Fifth Avenue, June 21. A varied group of entrepreneurs, from graphic designers to artists and barbers, is forming a micro business district in Banker’s Hill with the aid of Warren Simon of the BID Foundation and BID Council. (Photograhpy by Dave Schwab)

Group receives grant from city

By Dave Schwab | SDUN Reporter

Banker’s Hill entrepreneurs say the community has come of age and that it’s time to “brand” it with its own distinctive business association.

Which is why about 20 mostly small business owners, everyone from barbers to financiers, gathered at an informal organizational meeting June 21 at Sanfillippo’s Restaurant at 2949 Fifth Ave. to break bread and launch an as-yet-unnamed Business Micro District in Banker’s Hill.

“We are not quite an association, but now we have a micro district grant to have a business group, business people meeting together on a regular basis in Banker’s Hill,” said Jake Sutton, financial advisor for Edward Jones at 2550 5th Ave., Ste. 65, who led the Micro Business District meeting, imploring his colleagues to join him in forming a committee to “pull everybody together.”

“Today you need to have some kind of clout to get things done,” said Warren J. Simon, a member of both the city’s BID Foundation and BID Council, who has been mentoring the fledgling group during its formation.

Extolling the benefits of businesses joining forces, Simon noted the Banker’s Hill Micro District grant will likely be in the $4,000 to $7,000 range. Simon added grant funds can’t be used by the new Banker’s Hill group for a number of things including food and travel expenses. What funds can be used for, he said, will be decided by the new group once it’s formed.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a business directory with all the businesses in it, would that help?” queried Sutton, when asked about ideas on how the micro grant money might best be spent. “The bottom line is there’s a lot of cool things that we can do.”

Someone else suggested that the new community group might look into how a portion of parking meter proceeds in the Banker’s Hill area might be reinvested back into promoting local business development.

“It’s a great idea,” commented Michael Breitenstein of Inscriptu, Inc., a small computer controlled laser engraving business that started out of a garage and is now quartered at 3138 5th Ave., about formation of the new micro district. “Maybe it will provide more visibility.”

“It’s a great way to form a cohesive group to let people know where we are,” said Nancy Moors operator of HillQuest, a Hillcrest web portal. Moors is a Banker’s Hill property owner and is past president of Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), the city’s oldest Business Improvement District (BID) representing about 1,200 businesses on Banker’s Hill’s border.

“Businesses are growing in the neighborhood and are becoming much more vibrant, and it’s a great opportunity for business owners to get together and form an alliance,” added Moors.

Benjamin Nicholls, HBA’s executive director, said the newly forming Banker’s Hill business group has his BID’s blessing.

“It’s something that is long overdue,” he said, noting, “We (HBA) would rather have another strong and enthusiastic business group on our border like we do with North Park and Mission Hills.”

Nicholls noted the line separating Hillcrest from Banker’s Hill is well demarcated. “Our boundary is Upas, and their boundary is Upas: It’s a pretty solid line,” he said.

The city instituted the Micro District Program recognizing that all neighborhood business districts may not qualify to become a full fledged BID (a defined area within which businesses pay an additional tax or fee in order to fund improvements within the district’s boundaries) because they lack a “critical mass” of business tax certificate (business license) holders necessary to generate revenues to establish and maintain a non-profit corporation. The city subsequently developed “Micro Districts,” informal business groups typically with 100 to 250 members.

To become a Micro District, groups of interested business owners begin by establishing a formation committee, comprising business license holders, commercial property owners, local residents and representatives of other community-based organizations. This committee or group, initially often on an ad hoc basis, identifies district boundaries and surveys the businesses within them.

Based on the survey results, the committee then formulates a preliminary work plan. Ultimately, the group pursues full legal status as a non-profit.

Each year, the BID Council makes available small, one-year grants to assist Micro Districts. In general, grant monies can be used for business improvement or promotional activities in the identified Micro District, such as restaurant “taste ofs.”

To qualify for a Micro District grant, applicants must: identify recognized district boundaries or a common industry; present a list of small business tax certificate holders; demonstrate a measurable effort to solicit matching funds; seek “seed” funding for new programs involving the revitalization of commercial areas, capacity building and business retention; and maintain a bank account for the group showing one-quarter of the full grant amount in the account.

Simon, of the BID Council, said it’s not the size of the business district—but the commitment of those involved—that really matters in determining how successful the group will be.

“I’ve had large groups that don’t accomplish much of anything and groups as small as six that I’m working with that are producing newsletters and brochures,” he said.

Banker’s Hill/Midtown is one of Uptown’s earliest developed communities. Today, it’s an upscale neighborhood characterized by Victorian mansions, some of which have been converted to offices for dentists, lawyers and small companies. Notable historic architects Irving Gill, William Hebbard, Richard Requa and Frank Mead designed homes in the neighborhood, which acquired the name “Banker’s Hill” because of its reputation as a home for the affluent.

Local residents are young professionals, empty nesters and those who enjoy the pedestrian lifestyle of an urban environment with convenient access to both I-5 and SR-163, along with shopping readily available in Hillcrest and Mission Valley as well as Horton Plaza. Balboa Park is within walking distance of most of the homes, offering residents access to its museums and theatre.

The next meeting of the new Banker’s Hill business group will be Tues., July 19, at 6 p.m. at Planet Rooth Gallery, 3334 5th Ave.

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