Input ‘perfect’ for Downtown plan
Downtown Investment Authority board members and consultants considered ideas for a redevelopment plan Wednesday, but kept being interrupted by members of the public.
But, it wasn't disruptive — just the opposite.
Those in attendance were encouraged to share their ideas and took the opportunity to do so.
They weighed in on whether city incentives should go to either developers or tenants. The need to better publicize and inventory city-owned, "lazy" properties. A call for the authority to have complete responsibility over all Downtown properties. Even the desire to bring another higher education campus to the urban core.
"That was perfect," said authority board member Melody Bishop, regarding the public involvement. "We are interested in hearing these ideas."
The plan, a framework for how the authority will revitalize Downtown, must be approved by City Council before the authority is independent. It actually will be an amendment to the past master plan and when completed and approved, the board can function without council oversight for actions such as providing incentive deals.
Bishop's committee began the task last year, but it's only been in recent months the plan, as she says, has had more direction. That's when a consultant firm was brought aboard to help guide.
"They are right on task, based on what we asked them to do," Bishop said.
The firm in two weeks will provide a basic framework of the plan but presented some concepts to the committee Wednesday.
They include the need to identify projects and actions the authority can undertake at minimal cost and could start next year, along with having a goal of smaller-scale changes to public spaces that could later lead to greater impact.
Those short-term investments were suggestions of improving infrastructure, such as reducing city-owned vacancies by waiving rental fees for multiple years and creating a shade canopy along Bay Street. There's also a push to increase Downtown's outdoor seating and creating a "reliable, frequent" trolley system that better connects Downtown with surrounding neighborhoods and supports parking facilities. Other short-term ideas were focused on better special events programming and an overall streetscape beautification.
As part of the discussion, four areas were pitched in terms of where the focus should be. They were: Laura Street, from Monroe to Bay streets; the Brooklyn and Riverside areas; Bay Street from Liberty to Ocean streets; and Riverplace Boulevard. Of those, it's suggested the initial stage focuses on one or two areas.
Bishop calls those ideas "not even the tip of the iceberg" for what the plan will encompass.
Council member Lori Boyer serves as the authority's council liaison. She said after Wednesday's meeting that the group "is definitely heading in the right direction" and has made much progress in the past couple of months. But, she wished more board members attended the committee meetings to be involved. Only three of the nine members attended Wednesday's meeting.
"It needs to be their input, their decision," she said.
Yet, as was on display Wednesday, members of the public have been, which the authority's CEO said has been encouraging.
"That is my philosophy," said Aundra Wallace, the authority CEO. "I want the community to own the new plan."
If the community "owns" the plan, then it will be an easier sell to council for approval.
And, the sooner it's approved, the sooner Wallace, the nine-member board and others will be able to streamline revitalizing Downtown.