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CITY'S DOWNTOWN PLAN NEARLY DONE

By BRIAN BULLOCK

After months of studies, public workshops, presentations by consultants and more studies, the City of Brookings is steps away from adopting an Urban Renewal Plan – a plan aimed at cleaning up the downtown area.

Consultant Charles Kupper Monday night laid out a draft of Brookings Urban Renewal Plan and a report on it to a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission.

With costs in excess of $15 million spread over 25 years, new planning commissioner Bruce Nishioka asked the inevitable question: "Can the city afford to forego the taxes that will be used to finance the plan?"

Kupper's reply: "The downtown area of Brookings is not pulling its own weight. I think instead of the question, ‘Can the city afford to do this?' It should be, ‘Can the city afford not to do this.'"

Kupper said the conditions in downtown Brookings are ripe for urban renewal. Blight is evident not only in lack of sidewalks and public facilities, but in the poor shape of commercial and retail buildings.

He said the real market value of the land in the renewal area is $37.26 million.

The real market value of the improvements, being buildings, homes and businesses, is $39.63 million, he said.

That ratio barely exceeds 1-to-1. Most cities have ratios of building value to land value upwards of 4-to-1 or higher. Urban renewal could raise that ratio for Brookings, Kupper said.

"We have an area where building value barely exceeds land value," Kupper said. "This is shockingly low."

He said this one piece of information shows a lack of investment in the renewal area, depreciated values and a lack of tax-producing ability.

While Nishioka's question is a valid point, Kupper and City Manager Leroy Blodgett both said Brookings can almost not afford to continue without some agency or device to spark investment in the downtown area.

"The whole idea is the downtown renewal projects probably would not happen if it weren't for urban renewal," Blodgett said.

Those projects cover a vast array of construction, rehabilitation and preservation activities designed to breathe life into a coughing and choking business area.

Kupper said the renewal plan is "expected to produce positive fiscal and service impacts" for the city.

Among them are: street and traffic circulation improvements; infrastructure improvements; rehabilitation and preservation of existing buildings; new business incentives; and capital improvements for the city that would attract business to the downtown area.

"By investing (urban renewal funds) into downtown, you'll get maybe $10 million worth of growth instead of $2 million you might get if there were no urban renewal," Blodgett said.

The draft of the plan shows a $10 million target figure for downtown renewal projects which pencils out to a $15,825,000 in maximum indebtedness over a 25-year period.

While that $10 million might not sound like enough to relocate City Hall or build a performing arts center or community center, it will give the urban renewal agency enough cash to build sidewalks, spruce up public parks and pedestrian walkways, create parking lots and generally make downtown a more visitor friendly area.

"Obviously we won't be able to do everything with urban renewal money," Blodgett said. "The thought is if we can generate urban renewal funds, we can use them to garner other funds. We will have to get creative."

The city manager said some urban renewal money will be used as matching funds to secure grants to take care of the bigger projects on the Urban Renewal Agency's wish list.

Planning Commissioner Russ Fritz asked if the city is locked into the program for the 25-year period described in the plan. He wondered if it can be altered if things go better or worse than expected.

"If there is no indebtedness, yes the City Council can call it quits," Kupper said.

He also said urban renewal has been successful enough since the passage of Measure 50 in 1997 that only one in 100 communities has decided to pull the plug on their plans.

A big part of the plan to get projects going quickly is to borrow money based on the tax increment revenue urban renewal will generate.

According to the plan, once tax increment revenue is established, the Urban Renewal Agency will secure a loan and projects will begin. The first loan on the plan draft is $429,000 in 2004.

It was decided earlier this month that the agency will earmark 10 percent of its funds toward public parks and open spaces, and 10 percent toward program administration. Five percent increments will go toward preservation and rehabilitation, low interest loans and incentives, public parking facilities, pedestrian and transit improvements and streetscape beautification.

The largest capital outlays for the agency will be 20 percent of its funds to streets and public utilities and 20 percent to assist in development and redevelopment of the downtown core.

The final draft of the Brookings Urban Renewal Plan will go to the Planning Commission Aug. 5. The City Council will receive the commission's recommendation Aug. 12 and, if all goes as planned, it will be adopted by ordinance Aug. 26.

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