Council reviews 11-year-old wish list

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer October 23, 2013 09:21 am

Brookings city councilors took a couple of hours Tuesday evening to dust off its Urban Renewal Agency (URA) project list, evaluate what has — and hasn’t — been accomplished and determine if the wish list of 11 years ago still jibes with the needs of today.

The five-page document, part of a visioning process and drafted as a 30-year plan, lists such items as local nature interpretive centers, road improvements and even the relocation of City Hall. Many projects on the wish list were delayed or deemed inappropriate in the ensuing years.

Additionally, the only elected official possibly familiar with the list is Mayor Ron Hedenskog, who sat on the planning commission when the plan was adopted.

City Manager Gary Milliman also noted in the report the effect the Great Recession had on the local economy.

“The plan estimated annual tax increment revenues of $780,000 by 2013,” he wrote. “Actual revenues for that year were $489,800. Part of the shortfall can be attributed to the general poor economic conditions during most of the period since the inception of the URA. The economy then looked very different then than it does today.”

Tax revenue, however, is expected to increase to $523,000 for the current fiscal year.

The plan isn’t scheduled for reevaluation, Milliman said, but staff felt it was a good time to take a new look at elements within it and eliminate or update them as needed.

“It might be that some are no longer relevant to the community, and others they might think of,” Milliman said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the current council thinks about the projects on the list.”

Priorities: 2013

City councilors Monday indicated their priorities are to assist in the development of a hospital and emergency room — among many ideas first proposed in 2002.

“We’re not sure what that might look like,” Milliman said in regards to its process, “but they are open to participating in that. It’s a high priority.”

The Railroad Street reconstruction is on track for 2015-2016, and the city just finished its experiment with the smaller project of beautifying downtown with light post flower baskets this summer. The council is still interested, as well, in improving the south entrance to town.

A new idea is to encourage agency participation in acquisition and development of vacant lots and buildings. 

“This is something we’ve never really talked about before,” Milliman said Tuesday. “It’s something that’s been observed in other communities.”

Few ideas have changed much in the past decade, although among the most dramatic ideas then was the “enhancement” of the private museum at the Central Building. Currently, Milliman’s wife, Carolyn, is heading up a committee to hold a 100-year anniversary in 2015 for that building — the only one in Brookings listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Plans to relocate City Hall faded with the construction boom and were never pursued beyond the conceptual stage, Milliman said. As the economy recovers, however, and if the city to returns to a “growth pattern,” the added staff needed will require an expansion of the facility.

The city is unlikely to relocate its city hall as it has invested millions into the fire, police and city offices at its current site. But redesigns could include converting the front garden into office space and relocating the city council chambers and courtrooms off-site, as other cities have done.

The council is still tinkering with the idea of a performing arts center in which URA funds could help fund studies to select a site and prepare a facility plan. Additionally, URA money could be used to help the group that has been actively pursuing an aquatic and community center.

Three plans for public parking areas have been put on the back burner, as well, including one at Fern and Spruce streets, which the city is now selling for $175,000.

Pocket parks along Railroad Street have not been pursued, either, Milliman said. A parcel at Railroad and Wharf streets, across from Bi-Mart, is for sale, and while city officials believe it’s not convenient for downtown shoppers, it could work well as a central bicycle kiosk and information center.

A 2002 plan also outlined an idea to provide RV parking on Alder Street, but that location has also been deemed to be too far-flung for downtown strollers.

Other ideas

Ideas that have not been pursued included the creation of a central plaza downtown, a looped walkway from downtown to public parks, a nature interpretive area in the Sudden Oak Death area at Azalea Park and a wetlands park at the old mill pond.

And several areas around town need pedestrian access, including Cottage Street between Pacific and Mill streets; Valley Street between Hillside and Pacific avenues, Pacific Avenue north of Highway 101, the south side of Highway 101 from Crissy Circle to Arnold Lane; Hillside Avenue between Highway 101 and many locations along Railroad Street. 

This past year, the city budgeted funds to build sidewalks along the 600 block of Hemlock and on Alder Street between Spruce and Hemlock streets.

Park projects still being contemplated include reconfiguring the athletic fields at Azalea Park for all-weather use; an additional snack shack at Azalea Park; and restrooms at Chetco Point and Stout parks. 

Bike paths will be constructed as part of the Railroad Street reconstruction, and additional decorative street lights will be installed as part of downtown street improvements at Hemlock and Railroad streets.

One public restroom — to open in December at Mill Beach — has been built; others at Chetco Point and Stout parks were discussed in the past as well.

Trees have been planted along Chetco Avenue, and a small amount of URA money was spent to plant landscaping at two pocket parks along Highway 101. Some benches have been installed along the main street, but URA funds could be used to install more, as well as trash cans and bike racks at various parks.

And a long list of proposals listed a decade ago have since been determined to have overly broad definitions, including the construction of “job-creating facilities,” providing low-interest rate loans and incentives and “preservation and rehabilitation.”