June 14, 2013 12:56:54 PM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Discussions on revitalization in Columbus continued Thursday as developers and city officials involved with a redevelopment authority steering committee held its first meeting.
The committee met with planning consultant Tripp Muldrow to discuss how a redevelopment authority would function and what the redevelopment boundaries should be. Under Mississippi code, municipal governing bodies can create an enterprise arm designed to focus on community development projects after holding a public hearing. Members of that five-person entity can own property, participate in public-private partnerships and issue bonds and levy special taxes.
Muldrow presented a hypothetical set of boundaries for the redevelopment district that included areas where blight is an issue and could qualify for Brownfield grant funding that City Planner Christina Berry is in the process of acquiring. Also included in the district is the city council-created entertainment district.
Muldrow said this allows the public sector to have a companion organization that works more like a private-sector corporation, which facilitates the community revitalization process.
"When public is making an investment, you're trying to maximize your private returns so the tax base of the community continues to grow, so there's definite public interest in this," Muldrow said. "What it does also is it gives board leadership that advises the city on implementing major projects under state statute. It's a lot more nimble in doing redevelopment because they can act more quickly often times because they're their own agency."
Muldrow received suggestions from steering committee members on how the boundaries could be changed slightly to include more territory, including expanding to have more of the area known as "The Island" in the district. Most importantly, Muldrow said, is making sure there is a collaborative effort with Lowndes County and the Golden Triangle Development Link to exploit commercial, retail or industrial opportunities.
"The boundaries can wiggle and we can get down all the details on boundaries. I wanted to move beyond the boundaries to have that discussion on, 'Once we do this, what are we going to do?,'" Muldrow said. "This is all informal discussion. It's due diligence."
Once the committee becomes an official redevelopment authority and drafts plans for the district, the city's planning commission would review the plans and gather input before making changes and sending it to the city council. At that point, Muldrow said it would be best to hold a public meeting on what the plans entail before it goes to a public hearing and the council can vote on a resolution.
"We may opt during due diligence that it would be wise to have a public meeting (in advance) but would not be a hearing," Muldrow said. "I think it would be great just to have a meeting to let people know what's going on, answer questions and make sure nobody thinks this is government coming to take property. These are all good tools to help revitalize Columbus."
Berry said including areas in the district that could Brownfield funding could be used on is an extra tool to helping steer more funds toward redevelopment in Columbus.
"The nature and the mindset behind those areas being identified in the grant but also putting them in the redevelopment area because they are blighted and so we could benefit from that," Berry said. "It's the same reason we considered the entertainment district -- just to try to make those areas as marketable as we can."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.