My Turn: City taking wrong turn on economic development

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 1, 2012

Michael S. Young

Speaking as one of the hundreds of citizens who have collectively volunteered thousands of hours to meetings, participated in multiple planning and design charrettes and traveled to other communities to study what works, I am shocked that City Council has again (in a blatant disregard for the community planning process) ditched and/or defunded current and proposed economic development strategies … this time for the purpose of hiring a “retail recruiter.”
I would encourage our new city manager, mayor and City Council to go back and read the 2020 Plan, The Downtown Master Plan, The Business Incubator Study, the Civic and Meeting Space Study. … What these vetted plans and studies do talk about are places to focus our time, energy and financial resources in ways that will generate jobs and wealth in our community. Nowhere in these studies and plans is the need for a “retail recruiter” vaguely mentioned.
While most communities are beefing up their communities economic development toolboxes to encourage new and existing businesses to form or expand (the later identified in our own Business Incubator Study as the “low hanging fruit”), our economic development tool box just got smaller with the elimination of Innes Street and Facade Incentive Grant programs. These are two programs proven to incentivize private investment 10 to 1. In addition, council has eliminated funding left turns at the Square, hobbling the Empire Hotel redevelopment plan and the proposed civic/meeting center development.
Trending south
This is not the first time council has acted in disregard for the community planning process, and it seems to be trending south. On Sept. 7, council ignored the Downtown Master plan, years of negotiations with the property owner, studies indicating the property’s highest and best use as public parking … by giving away a public alley to a private property owner whose interests may run contrary to the interest of downtown and the community.
At this moment, the city manager is negotiating for the relocation of the downtown farmers market and possible sale of the former health center land to a private developer. The duties for this maneuver have been delegated to the … city finance director? There is a good reason for that. The downtown manager and the city planning staff might toss out the prospect that the city is circumventing its own planning process.
As a citizen volunteer, I am incensed that this is happening. It makes a mockery and pays lip service to the community consensus building and planning process.
As a downtown property owner and commercial real estate investor, I have become less bullish on reinvesting downtown. My confidence in the city’s longterm commitment to downtown through the planning process is being circumvented by private interests facilitated by our new city manager, new mayor and City Council.