This comment was submitted by a resident this week and I wanted to explore it a little further….
“Stop forcing the downtown down our throats by insisting it will succeed and plowing millions into a black hole. Take the money and divert it to the streets and the basics. You will serve more people that way rather than plowing the money into a downtown most don’t care about.”
I have several comments. First, I don’t take this as whimsical criticism. The resident has an opinion based on the facts as understood. Everyone is entitled to an opinion here, and if the facts are incomplete or incorrect, it’s my job to try to present the facts in a way everyone can understand.
People often have different viewpoints based on their opinions and their life experiences. If I get the facts out correctly, the opinions are what they are.
Let’s start then with the millions of dollars.
The city has a façade grant program for downtown businesses that is funded by a 1980’s HUD program called UDAG. The federal Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) program began in 1977. The HUD program was designed to assist commercial, industrial, and housing projects in lower income areas that “but for” the federal grant would not be built. During the Reagan years, the administration sought to end the program. In 1988, Congress no longer funded the program. We had old loans from this program for many years that continued to pay into the old grant fund, so we reutilized the old HUD money for the downtown façade grant program for the last couple decades. This program uses recycled HUD funds and not General Fund or local tax dollars.
The façade grants are reimbursable grants. The business completes and pays for eligible work and the grant reimburses once the work is inspected and approved. Downtown Middletown, Inc. runs the program and awards the grants.
In 2016, here are the façade grants funded by UDAG:
|Round 1||Project Name Amount|
|Liberty Spirits $550|
|Torchlight Pass, LLC $30,000|
|All About You Catering $600|
|Total Round 1: $31,150|
|One Market & Eatery $7,926|
|Round 2||Art Central Foundation $637|
|Gracie’s LLC $20,000|
|Central & Canal Investments $1,580|
|TriCounty Mgmt, Inc. $1,700|
|West Central Wine $432|
|Sorg Opera Rev Group $7,725|
|Total Round 2: $40,000|
|Total 2016 Grants: $71,150|
Here are the 2016 General Fund expenditures for downtown:
$196.38 old Duke Energy bills for the Manchester when it was still in the City’s name
$3,618.05 Property Taxes
$20,173.00 Purchase of Old Senior Center
$25,000 City Agreement with DMI
$7,000 ED Strategic Plan
$2,028.38 Manchester Inn Elevator Certificate
$2,780.00 Environmental Testing at 1001 Grove St.
$1,502.00 Misc. Other Prof. Services
Our budget for 2016 was $28,318,994.00. The downtown expenditures accounted for 0.2% of the 2016 General Fund budget.
For 2017, these are the budgeted expenses for downtown:
Other Professional Services – $40,000 (DMI, maintenance of downtown city owned buildings)
Property Taxes – $5,000 (Special assessments for conservancy, etc., still owed by city)
Buildings & Other Structures – $175,000 (placeholder in support of the new downtown Master Plan)
Our 2017 General Fund budget is $30,310,539.00. The downtown expenditures are projected to be 0.7% of General Fund expenditures in 2017.
Second… so a typical street takes around $250,000 per lane mile to repave. A lane mile is one lane for one mile, which means that one mile of two way roads will have two lane miles of pavement, one lane mile in each direction the road travels.
Mill and fill can be a little cheaper, and a total rebuild would be more. But $250K is a good number for discussion. The $220,000 in the 2017 budget would pave approximately 0.88 lane miles of road in 2017. We have 621 lane miles of streets in Middletown, so diverting the downtown money to paving would pave 0.14% of the city roads. Said another way, if we diverted $220,000 from downtown for 7 years in a row and paved with all of the money saved, we would pave 1% of our city roads at the end of the seven years.
Third, people who have opposed downtown development have called it my or their downtown. I’ve lived here for two years now. I love living in Middletown. But it’s not my downtown, it’s your downtown. There are nice businesses, good concerts and events, and a lot of fun activities going on downtown most of the year. Everyone is invited.
People in this community often have a this OR that mentality. If it is this, then it can’t be that. I believe we would be better served by a this AND that mentality in most things.
We’re a manufacturing community. That’s great unless the manufacturing sector is slumping and then the city is slumping. We’d be better served by a more diversified tax base with many industries, business sectors and services so that a downturn in one business sector doesn’t pull the whole city down.
“We’re not an artsy fartsy town, we’re blue collar.” True, but some people in town do like the arts. Why isn’t there room for everyone’s tastes? I’m looking for ways to expand inclusion, not push people away.
If artsy isn’t your thing, what would you like to see more of for quality of life events? I am a terrible mind reader. If you don’t tell me, I’m not likely to guess what you want.
You can choose not to come downtown, but you are missing out on over 30 nice small local businesses that could use your support. You’re missing out on a number of nice concerts and events throughout the year. And, it’s your downtown whether you wish to come down or not. I think it is worth less than 1% of the General Fund tax dollars to support downtown business efforts.
Finally, City Council will see a presentation on the new downtown Master Plan at the January 17 meeting. The Council meeting should be on YouTube by mid week. I’ll try to get the plan published here. That plan will recommend large expenditures over the next several years to develop the riverfront and open up walking and bikeways throughout the downtown area. Look it over and give your comments.
Look at it two ways… First, do I like what has been presented? Would I like to live in a city that had a downtown like this? Do I like the types of amenities and quality of life ideas included in the plan? Second, if you like the ideas, where does this fit in the big picture of rebuilding the city? How does it compare to spending on economic development, improving school performance, repairing infrastructure, etc.?
It’s your city. If you choose not to be involved and let your opinions be known, then you get the best plan that Doug can come up with. That may or may not serve your best interests….