By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Urban renewal draws a full house

The city provided participants with forms to complete. And it promised all comments, questions and concerns would be taken into account by the consultant and advisory committee before the first draft of the urban renewal plan is submitted to the city planning commission, probably sometime this summer.

Much of the evening was spent explaining why the city thinks urban renewal is necessary – it sees tax-increment financing as the only way to pay for expensive downtown upgrades – and how it works — values are frozen for other purposes and the difference is used to fund infrastructure improvements aimed at spurring an infusion of private investment.

Consultant Elaine Howard also sought to calm potential concerns.

She noted, “Everyone needs to understand that you may not, any more, condemn private property for a private purpose, so don’t worry about that. That’s not going to happen.”

Although urban renewal is funded through property taxes, it doesn’t mean property taxes will rise as a result, Howard said.

She said the amount of property taxes going to current recipients – the city, county and school district — is capped. As values rise, producing additional revenue, that revenue is funneled into the urban renewal kitty.

The city is considering a potential $30 million investment, but expects that investment to be spread over decades and end up paying for itself.

“Don’t think this $30 million authorization means your city is going to go out and spend $30 million, and you’re not going to know how to pay it back,” she told the audience. “That’s not how urban renewal works.”

As the money is raised, she said, it is typically used for programs to assist property owners, for example, in improving storefronts, for example. Howard cited an urban renewal project in Astoria, where an abandoned warehouse was renovated to house a thriving brewery and brew pub operation.

The hope, she said, is that as businesses take advantage of the loans and special programs urban renewal provides, the area will undergo a renaissance.

With more vibrant commercial and residential uses developing, property values rise. And all jurisdictions reap the benefit when the urban renewal cap is lifted, as it eventually will be, she said.

However, she noted the city would probably need to invest some of its own money to kickstart the process on the front end, most likely by paving Alpine Avenue. Whether residents are willing to do so is one question city leaders need to consider.

The audience also heard a review of the downtown’s history from News-Register Publisher Jeb Bladine and local attorney Walt Gowell, both members of the downtown advisory committee that recommended the city council embark on an urban renewal program in the first place.

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