Despite a sharp protest from one member of the Hamilton Downtown Business Improvement District, the City Council approved the re-establishment of the District with one abstention after holding a public hearing on the matter at its July 3 meeting.
Pete Seifert, President of the HDBID, told the Council that 66% of the property owners in the District voted for it.
“That’s a definite majority,” he said. He said the District had done a lot over the years to improve the downtown, placing park benches, city lights, trees and garbage receptacles. He said that the District operated in an open and fair manner.
Clayton Dethlefsen, owner of City Center Motel, who wrote a letter of protest to the Council, expressed strong disagreement. Dethlefsen said his business and others along 4th and 5th Streets did not get benches, or trash receptacles. He said the District was spending a lot of money on landscaping instead of its true purpose, which was to benefit businesses.
“We are not here today to say we don’t want to be a part of the District, but to re-direct it to its original purpose,” he said.
Dethlefsen claimed to have conducted a research and analysis survey that he presented to 250 of his customers and got a 75% response rate. He said that 25% of his guests are tourists, the other 75%, he said, were staying there for other reasons such as visiting family or lodging near the hospital or the lab.
“It has nothing to do with the HDBID,” he said. He said that 75% of his guests say they shop downtown during their stay.
“We benefit the downtown but the HDBID doesn’t support us at all,” said Dethlefsen. He said that he would be better off taking the money he gives the District and buying his own advertising with it.
Dethlefsen said that he was already in court over the issue of being taxed by the Ravalli County Tourism Business Improvement District, claiming he is being unfairly assessed by both the county and the city. He said the District Court erred when it ruled against him in the case and it was under appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
Seifert said that the purpose of the District was not to make money for businesses, but to develop a good business environment in the town. He said having a nice downtown was essential to a good business community. He said a lot of effort had been put into the District and into the reestablishment of the District and that he didn’t appreciate the eleventh hour protest.
“We are giving you a good business climate and that’s all that we can do,” said Seifert.
“That’s not all you can do,” shot back Dethlefsen. “You could provide an equitable benefit to each business in the District. We are getting zero benefit.”
Janet King, owner of the West Side Commons building, said that there was no retail business there, “but I feel very strongly our business benefits from the actions of the District. There is a cost for doing business and I’m willing to pay that cost.”
Bunny Robbins, a member of the District Board, said that the board meetings were public and members need to come and express their needs.
“We can’t hold your hand,” she said, “you need to attend. We’ve done a good job.”
Council member Jenny West called it a “ripple effect,” the way that a nice downtown can ripple out to outlying businesses.
The Council passed the resolution reestablishing the District on a 5 to 0 vote, with one abstention.