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City gives green light to next phase of Downtown Tomorrow grants

Next phase will include incentives for brownfield redevelopment; Tim Lauer said he is 'not comfortable' with program that he suggested is becoming a subsidy
2022-03-01 McLean and Dickey DTCIP
McLean and Dickey Insurance benefitted from a grant from the city's Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan.

The city is set to build on a grants program that aims to bring jobs and people to the downtown core.

The Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan (DTCIP) was implemented in 2017. Since then, grants have been awarded for feasibility and design studies, facade and building improvements, and the creation of residential units.

The program has aided in the addition of 72 residential units downtown, 99 jobs created, 128 jobs retained, and the creation of 15 new businesses.

“Because of this, we’re seeing more people living, working and playing downtown, increased revitalization and more events,” Laura Thompson, senior manager of business development, said during Monday’s council committee meeting.

The city is now looking to implement Tier 3 of the DTCIP. It will include a brownfields tax assistance program, a development charge grant program and a tax increment grant program.

“As a council, we really support the remediation of brownfields. This is a way that we can show our support,” said Coun. Pat Hehn.

She asked if staff planned to reach out to owners of known brownfields.

Thompson said 12 properties have been identified that account for most of the brownfields in the core and that she intends to reach out to the owners to ask about their development plans or encourage them to release the properties to developers willing to move forward.

Coun. Rob Kloostra asked if there were plans to expand the area covered by the DTCIP and was told that is not being considered at this time.

“We don’t have trouble attracting investment to our periphery,” Thompson said.

The challenge, she added, is brownfields because they are more expensive to build on.

There are also limited funds for the program.

“We’re looking at where is the best bang for our buck, and if we keep that area small, it’s more sustainable and more impactful for the program,” she said.

Staff asked council committee to release $200,000 from the community improvement plan reserve to be put toward the 2022 Tier 1 and Tier 2 grants programs and $700,000 for Tier 3.

That was “a big ask,” said Coun. Jay Fallis, who suggested $200,000 of that money be set aside specifically for affordable housing downtown.

That was a “compelling idea,” said Mayor Steve Clarke, though he warned taking allocated funds from the DTCIP would be an “arbitrary decision” without staff and council having done their homework on it first.

Coun. Tim Lauer supported the grants for smaller projects like facade improvements, but he was “really questioning the increase to Tier 3 in regards to housing and brownfields.”

“I am not absolutely clear what we can call incentive and what we should just be calling a subsidy,” he said.

Providing grants for residential development “when it’s becoming so unaffordable” and developers are making more money off of it might not sit well with taxpayers, he added.

“I’m really not comfortable with moving ahead with Tier 3 at this particular time.”

Council committee approved staff’s request to allocate funding, a decision that will be up for ratification at the next council meeting.