The year was 1992. The economy was growing, rebounding from recession but still suffering from high unemployment. Across the country, the recession, gentrification, and a general lack of vision left many promising downtowns floundering. Sacramento was no exception – the city was rising, but wasn’t able to truly focus on making Downtown the thriving hub it could be.
Nineteen distinct bodies, including the City, Redevelopment Agency, 4 marketing organizations, and 5 assessment districts, all served Downtown Sacramento. Each had its own specific purpose and a limited budget. The existing downtown organization, with a budget of only $100,000, focused its attention on holiday lighting and decorative banners. “This disjointed bureaucracy…result[ed] in overlapping maintenance crews, fragmented marketing efforts, high overhead and a lack of direct accountability.”
Recognizing that downtowns in other states were making consistent, coordinated, and well-funded efforts to turn around, a group of Downtown Sacramento property owners decided it was time to do the same. They created a new nonprofit called Downtown Sacramento First, hired attorneys and improvement district consultants, brought in expert panels from Philadelphia and Baltimore, and joined forces with key players in other California downtowns including San Jose, Long Beach, and Los Angeles.
The result of these efforts was a plan to turn around downtown, to provide coordinated efforts, and to give the private sector a seat at the downtown planning table occupied by the City and Redevelopment Agency. That plan soon became the Property and Business Improvement District Law of 1994, California’s first law allowing creation of property-based improvement districts. That law allowed creation of the Downtown Sacramento Property and Business Improvement District in 1995. The new PBID was to be managed by Downtown Sacramento First, which became the Downtown Sacramento Partnership to better reflect the nature of its operations.
The Downtown Sacramento PBID was the first formed in the state under the new law, and went into effect on January 1, 1996. With its creation, a new norm emerged in downtown – “One phone number will get it done!”
With an initial budget of $1,197,000, the Downtown Partnership focused its new consolidated efforts on three key areas – Security Guides, Maintenance, and Revitalization. Bringing together disparate services and providers under its one large umbrella, the Partnership was able to provide better, cheaper services throughout downtown.
Over the years, the PBID funds have been leveraged by the Partnership to create a new downtown. Gone are the inhabitable alleyways, the sense of insecurity during the day, and the confusion over who to call when help was needed. Indeed, one phone number, that of the Downtown Partnership, is getting it done.
Downtown grew and began to flourish with the PBID’s support, leading the district to be renewed with overwhelming support from property owners and the City in 2000, 2005, and 2015. The PBID evolved and its budget grew in each successive renewal, expanding its services and bringing a new sense of ownership to downtown. In its most recent renewal, the District underwent a major overhaul to incorporate a new downtown entertainment and sports complex. The budget grew to just over $3.3 million dollars annually, and incorporated expanded services such as nuisance abatement and business development.
In 2011, looking to expand services into educational and charitable activities, the Partnership created a sister nonprofit, the Downtown Sacramento Foundation. As a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, the Foundation serves as a fundraising arm for downtown improvements. It is able to apply for grants, and can provide activities in addition to those of the Partnership, which is a 501(c)(6) organization. Together, the two organizations are a powerful force in downtown’s development.
One phone number truly gets it done in Downtown Sacramento. Propose a project in downtown and the first question you’ll be asked is “what does the Partnership think?” Want to open a new business? Apply for support from the Foundation’s Calling All Dreamers program. Visitors no longer simply walk through downtown – instead they walk with direction and safety provided by the Partnership’s ambassador team. Perhaps the most telling sign of the PBID’s success, however, is that in this latest renewal, the district was supported by property owners paying more than 80% of the assessment – in a renewal where the assessment paid was increased. People vote with their money, and they are voting for the Downtown Sacramento PBID.