The Special Improvement Districts Guidebook was developed by County Planning to inform interested parties about the benefits of forming a Special Improvement District, the general process of establishing one, and best practices for districts.

The Guidebook is intended to be used by local governments, community organizations, business owners, and others interested in learning more about Special Improvement Districts and how to establish one.

Special Improvement Districts Guidebook

cover of the guidebookThe Special Improvement District Guidebook includes a step-by-step guide to formation, best practices from local SIDs, and resources for getting started.

What Is a SID?

A Special Improvement District (SID) is a defined geographic area in which property owners elect to pay an additional assessment in order to fund public improvements and services that benefit the district. The purpose of a SID is to support the growth and development of a business district through services that enhance the area’s vibrancy, improve its safety and cleanliness, and attract investment.

Defined by Chapter 1710 of the Ohio Revised Code (see the Examples and Resources page for more information), a Special Improvement District is a public entity that is organized by property owners, governed by a local board, and authorized by the local municipality.

Although Ohio law allows for the creation of Special Improvement Districts for business district improvements, special energy improvement projects, or shoreline improvement projects, this Guidebook is written for those formed in business districts. Additional information on these alternate types of SIDs can be found in the SID Addendum.

Is a SID Right for You?

A Special Improvement District is a powerful tool for addressing the concerns of property owners and stimulating business and activity in a district, but that does not necessarily mean that a SID is the best mechanism for achieving your goals. Below are some characteristics of districts that make them prime candidates for a SID:

  • Existing relationships among merchants
  • Common interests or existing plans
  • Low vacancy rate
  • Density of commercial activities
  • Few governmental or institutional properties
  • Supportive city leadership

If these characteristics are present, it is more likely that a Special Improvement District will be approved and will ultimately be successful. If not, there may be other activities that are better suited to the district. For instance, if existing merchants do not have strong relationships, forming a merchant’s association may be a positive first step in forming the bonds that can ultimately lead to a Special Improvement District.

Services and Benefits of SIDs

SIDs can fund a wide variety of activities based on the needs and desires of property owners in the district. Some of the major categories of programs and service types are shown below.

icons representing services provided by SIDs

Formation Process

The process of forming a Special Improvement District is different for every business district because of the unique characteristics of property owners, tenants, and cities; however, there are best practices for going through the process, as shown below, that can be helpful to all potential SIDs.

Action Steps: Champion a SID

  • Start the informal process of establishing a SID
  • Identify interested groups within the business district
  • Meet with early allies to discuss
  • Contact your local government to determine the level of support and how they might assist

Action Steps: Form a Steering Committee

  • Form a Steering Committee of local property owners
  • Select a Steering Committee chairperson
  • Educate property owners about SIDs
  • Conduct a needs assessment for the district

Action Steps: Set the District Area

  • Set the initial boundaries of the proposed SID
  • Develop a database of property owners and parcel information
  • Determine whether the district includes church or governmental property
  • Model the assessments of individual parcels using different assessment formulas
  • Adopt a preferred assessment method

Action Steps: Develop a Service Plan

  • Determine desired services based on input and analysis
  • Develop a proposed budget based on service estimates and bids
  • Outline exactly what municipal services will be maintained after the SID is established
  • Draft, review, and update services plan

Action Steps: Form a Nonprofit

  • Identify whether a new or existing nonprofit will run the SID
  • Develop the nonprofit’s articles of incorporation
  • Establish the nonprofit and elect its Board of Directors

Action Steps: Gather Petitions

  • Approach largest property owners first to gain their petition signature
  • Gather petition signatures of 60% of front footage or 75% of all land area for approval

Action Steps: Gain Approval & Operate

  • Submit the signed petitions, initial plan of services, and articles of incorporation
  • Obtain approval from the legislative authority or authorities
  • Begin assessing properties in the district
  • Submit an annual report by the first day of March each year

More Information

For more information please see:

Contact Us

Questions or comments about this guidebook should be directed to:

Ms. Susan Infeld
Manager, Special Initiatives
Cuyahoga County Planning Commission

Disclaimer: County Planning’s Guidebook Series is intended for reference purposes only. County Planning assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this report. The information contained within is provided ‘as is’ with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness.

Top image: Flats East Bank by Erik Drost; accessed 8/26/20; licensed under CC BY 2.0