Council examines economic development priorities

Oct. 13, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

What can the city do to drive investment to blighted neighborhoods?
Perhaps spend more public dollars.
That’s one idea the City Council discussed during a recent session on its long-term priorities. City leaders said areas between E. Green and E. Kivett drives are full of boarded-up houses and are starved for investment.
They cited the example of the Macedonia neighborhood, which was in similar shape about 15 years ago, as how a turnaround might occur. In that case, the city used a federal grant to purchase vacant properties and partnered with a nonprofit homebuilder on a redevelopment initiative.
“Someone has got to set the tone. There’s been no redevelopment. We just go in and pass orders to repair or demolish these properties, but we haven’t come up with a concrete plan for what we’re going to do,” said Mayor Bernita Sims.
It’s an issue the council has dealt with for years, and officials said the city needs to take a multi-faceted approach in the core city.
“Fixing the core — there’s not a magic bullet for that,” said Councilman Jay Wagner. “Your never going to get Washington Street turned around unless you address what’s going on in the neighborhoods around it. You have to take a holistic approach or you’re just spinning your wheels.”
The council discussed what types of industry sectors that could be encouraged through public investment or incentives. There doesn’t appear to be a move toward a major infusion of public dollars anywhere that is imminent.
“If we’re looking to accomplish something, we’re going to need private investment. There’s only so much that our money and federal money can do,” said Councilman Jason Ewing.
The council talked about revising the city’s incentives policy to target smaller companies.
A committee two years ago looked into a retail incentives policy, but most of its recommendations were never implemented. The council approved a relatively small amount of money for facade grant small business projects in the core city.
“The city seems like its fishing for marlin all the time instead of catching things in the net that might grow to be marlin,” said Wagner. “How do we create the environment of risk-taking and entrepreneurship?”
Wagner said cities like Asheville and Durham that have seen center-city revitalization were able to foster “cultures of creative entrepreneurship.”
In the meantime, others said there are more pressing needs that warrant attention.
“There are parts of city, they need small businesses. They need dry cleaners. If all we look for are things that are going to bring in 100 jobs, we’re not helping the total community. There are retail needs in certain parts of the city that aren’t being addressed,” said Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall.