TAC members propose $2M downtown plan

The Downtown Salem Technical Advisory Committee presented its plan to the Committee of the Whole of City Council Tuesday night, asking council to take several actions related to buildings, parking, traffic, funding, Internet access and business development for downtown.

“I know this is a whole lot we’re asking you to digest,” presenter and downtown building owner Scott Cahill said.

Each council member was provided with a copy of a thick, detailed report with 21 different sections addressing the findings of the TAC, the recommendations, cost projections and benefits, statistics related to crime, income, transportation and poverty in Salem and action items for the city of Salem to consider.

A copy of the report will be posted on the Salem Downtown TAC Facebook page. If anyone has trouble accessing the page, ask for the link at the email at savedowntownsalem@gmail.com.

An executive summary outlined the following significant items the city is being asked to do:

– form a Salem Buildings Department with a building code, building inspector and associated fee schedule

– raze buildings that pose a threat to the public per current law

– assume debt or a one-time tax of $50 per resident in the city of Salem for two years to provide funding for the redevelopment

– purchase structures and land to provide parking adjacent to downtown

– revise traffic patterns and add a truck route that circumvents the downtown business district while still allowing truck traffic serving downtown businesses

– consider universal Internet, car charging stations and a trolley

– draft a simple checklist to allow for the occupancy of buildings

– work with a non-profit developer to support a business incubator, apply for grants, find matching funds, coordinate other non-profit efforts and address aesthetic concerns of the downtown.

“I believe we find our city at a tipping point,” Cahill said, quoting statistics about poverty in the city.

He said the plan to redevelop is about more than just the downtown, but about all of Salem, explaining that when the downtown appreciates from development, the value of homes and other development will appreciate and the tax base will grow.

The report estimated the total cost of the development effort will be $2,154,000, with an estimated $720,000 from the building owners for remodeling to meet standards and make the buildings rentable.

Another $512,000 was anticipated from grants and donations through the use of facilities and expertise.

The estimated cost to the city was set at $922,000, with part of that money to be provided to a non-profit entity to hire a project manager, a rental agent and a grant writer, for the city to raze buildings, for paving and utility work, management of the business incubator and formation and maintenance of developer.

Cahill said the TAC came up with an idea for funding for the city portion through a $50 per resident line-item tax per year for two years. The estimated money raised would be $1,230,000 based on the city’s population. Another way mentioned in the report would be for the city to assume debt through a bond issue.

The report also projected 50 new businesses and 56 new residences could be accomplished through the redevelopment of the downtown, with increased income tax revenue and increased values for the buildings. He described a business incubator of specialty shops such as glass blowers or cigar makers, fine restaurants or stores that will create a draw for people to travel to Salem for the day.

He said members of the TAC, which was made up of some downtown building owners and other interested parties, want the city back. They don’t want to lose buildings and they want excellence for Salem.

“We want a vibrant, strong downtown,” he said.

Councilman K. Bret Apple, who chaired the Committee of the Whole meeting in Councilman Dave Nestic’s absence, said they’ll need some time to digest the TAC report, but said there will be more meetings.

Apple said they’ll need to decide if they want to follow the recommendations in the report, noting that a big item to look at is cost and whether they believe the plan is feasible. Any tax against the citizens he would want put to a vote to let the people decide.

Councilman Brian Whitehill said there are different mechanics of taxing, but he has yet to hear of one that goes off of a census.

Several council members asked questions regarding the plan, including about the cost to the city and to the building owners. Cahill said the building owners would own their buildings and they tried to have reasonable standards for occupancy that building owners can afford. He said people want to spend the money they must spend to bring the downtown back, but nothing more.

Councilman Clyde Brown talked about the time the city tried to get an increase in the 1 percent income tax and said he didn’t think the people would vote for an additional tax. Cahill said people need to ask themselves what happens if nothing is done. He admitted “this is not something simple I’m asking you to do.”

He also said they used realistic projections for the numbers for expected increases in value.

Tammy Hettinga, who owns Lion & Lamb Christian Resource Center on South Broadway Avenue, addressed city council during their regular meeting after the committee meeting. She said she and her husband moved into Salem about 40 years ago, coming from Chicago.

When they were trying to decide where to settle, they were told to find a healthy downtown because that’s an indication of a healthy town and they chose Salem. About 20 years ago, they bought a business that was ready to close because they wanted to see business succeed. A lot has changed since they first came to Salem.

Hettinga said she would love to see the downtown the way it was, but she’s not sure spending the money downtown will help the rest of Salem. She said it’s easy to talk about numbers, but questioned who was going to pay.

“I wish we were champagne and caviar and cigar stores, but we’re beer and hoagies,” she said about Salem.

Cahill said some members of the TAC will remain involved through the non-profit developer and told council he will remain involved and be available to answer their questions.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at mgreier@salemnews.net