Greenwood has a new vision for downtown revitalization, but now city officials have to commit to designing and funding projects before the plan becomes the latest document sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
The first step, and one that will need to be taken quickly, is sending in an application for up to $400,000 in grant dollars to help fix up downtown building facades, which is due to the state by March 6. If awarded, the city would be able to start renovating facades, which would be the first project in the revitalization.
City council members unanimously approved the plan but cut some specific ideas and wording to make the plan more generic. Since the plan was altered by the council, the city plan commission will need to grant one last approval to insert the downtown revitalization section into the city’s comprehensive plan, which is a guidebook for development through 2027.
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About 50 residents and business owners packed the council chambers for the meeting and applauded when the plan was approved.
Greenwood has talked about fixing up the Old Town area for years and formed plans. The difference between this plan and those in the past that went nowhere is that the city council actually endorsed this one, Mayor Mark Myers said. Previous plans were either never adopted or voted down, so the city wasn’t compelled to do anything, Myers said.
Two weeks ago, council members raised concerns that the draft didn’t have enough options, such as ideas to put a roundabout in downtown or demolish buildings for redevelopment, if needed. On Monday, council members made amendments to address those issues before approving the plan.
The changes deleted ideas about how to address traffic after council members raised concerns that the plan was too specific and would pigeonhole Greenwood into following those recommendations. Council members including Brent Corey and David Hopper had balked two weeks ago at the idea of eliminating turn lanes, narrowing the road and expanding sidewalks. The language was replaced with a generic statement to do a detailed traffic study.
“It doesn’t eliminate the need to make traffic improvements. It keeps that as a very high focus,” said Cory Daly of HWC Engineering, which wrote the plan for the city.
The council made other, smaller changes that weakened or deleted some references to restoration or preservation and replaced them with terms such as redevelopment. Those changes create more options so the city isn’t pinned into focusing on only preservation, council member Mike Campbell said.
The downtown plan doesn’t include any specific references to demolition of buildings. Demolition isn’t banned, but it’s not recommended anywhere in the plan, Myers said.
“That’s exactly what the council wanted, and I’m OK with it being kind of generic, because it does give us the ability to be flexible. You don’t want to tie your hands, but I’m not a proponent of tearing the buildings down,” Myers said.
Chuck Landon, who is a member of the Greenwood Economic Development Commission and the Restore Old Town Greenwood board, told council members that making the changes was a mistake and would weaken the plan, which was crafted based on the feedback from Greenwood residents and the expertise of the consultant. Landon was concerned about the tone of the conversation at the council’s previous meeting and the focus on wanting to keep demolition as an option.
“By amending the plan, I think that’s a mistake. I was shocked and dismayed as well as a lot of other people in the audience (two weeks ago). This is a plan for revitalization. It’s about construction, not destruction,” Landon said.
Restore Old Town Greenwood and community members want to see the plan followed and will push city officials to continue to make progress and explore projects in the future, Landon said. If city officials try to deviate too far from the plan or push for demolition for projects the community doesn’t like, they’ll be ready to line up to fight them, he said.
Now it’s up to the mayor, city council members, city staff, business owners and residents, who all had input in the process, to commit to following through with the recommendations, city council member Ezra Hill said. The downtown revitalization committee will create a checklist and timeline of next steps to take, he said.
“It’s not just going to be just the city that needs to keep this plan moving,” Hill said.
Applying for the facade grant is an immediate first step the city will take, and the new plan had to be approved in order for Greenwood to be eligible. If Greenwood is selected, the city could begin working with downtown business owners by summer to find out who is willing to pay part of the cost to update their buildings and prioritize which buildings get work done first, Myers said.
Myers then wants the city to pay for a detailed traffic study downtown in 2016, after the new interchange at Worthsville Road is expected to change traffic patterns and affect how many vehicles go through downtown every day, Myers said. Road improvements and infrastructure should be a top priority, he said.
After working on road and sidewalk improvements, the city would discuss other parts of the plan, such as improvements to Old City Park, turning Pleasant Run Creek in a landscaped pedestrian corridor or creating small gathering spaces downtown.
Campbell said funding will be a major issue for road improvements or facade work.
Greenwood has expanded its tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, which set aside some taxes from businesses to be used for infrastructure and economic development, to allow the city to spend those tax dollars downtown. If the city wants to use the tax dollars for improvements, officials will need to work out the costs and decide what projects are the most valuable, Campbell said.
“I think what you’re going to see happen is that they’re obviously going to come to the (redevelopment commission) and look at TIF money to do some of this stuff. That’s the only money that’s out there,” Campbell said.
The Greenwood City Council made some changes to the downtown revitalization plan before unanimously approving it. Here’s what council members changed:
Previous planning efforts: A section that said, “Restore Old Town district to its iconic status within the community — make it a cultural and government destination for the city” was reworded to say: “Make the downtown commercial core district a cultural and government destination for the city.”
Old City Park graphic: A previously unlabeled section along Main Street, between Madison Avenue and Meridian Street north of Old City Park, will be labeled “Future Options: Preservation or Redevelopment Area.”
Master plan graphic: Areas along Main Street, between Madison Avenue and Meridian Street, are being relabeled from “Old Town Building Redevelopment” to “Redevelopment Potential.”
Lane narrowing removed: An idea to reduce lane widths to add room for sidewalks is being replaced with a more generic direction to “Conduct a detailed traffic study to give guidance and facilitate the long-term traffic habits of the downtown commercial core.”
Removing turn lanes: A change was made from “Create an alternative route” to “Create an alternative traffic pattern” for traffic on Main Street and Madison Avenue to allow the city to eliminate turn lanes at the intersection.
Road improvements cut: Four pages with diagrams and recommendations for an idea to remove turn lanes, narrow travel lanes and increase sidewalk width were deleted from the plan.
Facade cost updates: Cost estimates for facade work on more than 30 downtown buildings are being updated with more accurate construction numbers, increasing the overall cost by more than $200,000.
SOURCE: HWC Engineering