PROVO — Provo's downtown drama has been a daytime soap opera for months. Tonight, the conflict pitting business owner against business owner will become a prime-time special.

The City Council will hold what is expected to be an emotional public hearing at 7 p.m., when it is expected to vote on a proposal to assess downtown businesses a fee to pay for the city's Downtown Business Alliance.

In May, the council canceled the assessment that had funded the Alliance for six years, agreeing with a strong minority of property and business owners that it was unfair because it was a flat rate.

The Council picked up the Alliance's expenses from June through December, a price tag of $90,000.

Now, the seven-member council will consider a new assessment that would charge three separate rates, with the highest rate charged to businesses along six blocks of Center Street and 3 1/2 blocks of University Avenue where the alliance provides the most benefit.

They will hear strong opposition again. Formal, written protests were due Monday by 5 p.m., and nearly 30 percent of downtown property and business owners filed statements against the revamped assessment.

"It would have been a much easier decision at 10 percent," City Council chairman George Stewart said. "It is still less than it was previously, and there's no question in my mind this proposal is more fair than the previous assessment."

Every business would pay less than it has the past three years, mostly because the City Council agreed to include city-owned property from now on. That will provide $50,000 of the Alliance's $170,000 budget.

The city's money would support the downtown public arts program, the "Clean and Safe" downtown program that maintains clean sidewalks and the kiosks, tree stands, flower baskets and flower beds in Historic Downtown Provo, Provo chief administrative officer Wayne Parker said.

The city's portion also would help the Alliance promote downtown events.

If the City Council approves the proposal, it will create the Provo Central Business Economic Development District, with the proposed three tiers of rates.

Downtown businessman Richard "Dee" Bradford opposed the new proposal during a City Council meeting on Sept. 18. He and others prefer a voluntary business association, where donations would be made as the alliance proved it was beneficial.

The debate included campaigning from both sides, including highly partisan fliers.

Bradford suggested a legal challenge could follow if the council approves the proposal.

The City Council has invested millions of dollars in the downtown in an effort to revitalize it, a process that Mayor Lewis Billings said is gaining momentum with the construction of one downtown office tower and the announcements of two more, among millions of dollars of additional private investment.

Stewart said he'll listen to both sides tonight but is leaning toward voting for the proposal.

"I hoped we'd have less protest than this, but at the same time, you have 70 percent who didn't protest. I think that's because we're allocating the assessment based as best we can on the benefit that will be provided and because the city is contributing heavily."

The public hearing will be held in the council chambers at the City Center and be televised on Provo Channel 17.

Two other public hearings with major repercussions will be held on proposals for neighborhood parking permit programs in the Foothill Park area and University Gardens area, both near Seven Peaks Water Park.

The programs are the appetizers for a pending battle over a proposed parking permit program directly south of the Brigham Young University campus. The proposals limit who can park on city streets in those areas.

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