SALEM - An entity already working on developing the two TIF zones in the city is asking for $60,000 to implement another project aimed at revitalizing the downtown, looking at traffic needs and preparing for future development.
Dubbed Project Tomorrow, the idea is the brainchild of Larry Kosiba, executive director of the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, which is an arm of the Salem Area Industrial Development Corporation.
Kosiba presented the proposal to members of the Economic Development Committee of City Council Tuesday night, besides updating them on the status of the TIF Zone project, the economic impact of the Salem Industrial Park and another project known as Project SEED BASE to make city data more readily available at one Internet source.
City council provided $24,500 to the SOD Center last summer for a one-year project to focus on attracting new businesses to the Tax Incremental Financing Zones on the east and north ends of the city. Due to the sensitive nature of the dealings, he said he couldn't give specifics on what developers, or retailers or restaurant chains were showing an interest, but said they've had meetings with multiple landowners and developers.
For Project Tomorrow, he requested $60,000 for operations for one year, with an additional, optional $40,000 set aside for projects, such as professional signage for the TIF Zones. The SOD Center would have to come to council for approval for the projects, so the whole $40,000 wouldn't have to necessarily be in place at once. As part of the proposal, he said other resources already in place could be leveraged.
Kosiba suggested the money could come from the industrial park fund which has more than $100,000 in it and has been sitting dormant for years without being used.
Project Tomorrow would establish a joint partnership between the SOD Center, the city, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce and the community, with the main objective new construction and job growth. Several committees would be formed, each with a specific area to focus on and with one overall committee overseeing the others to make sure what one is doing isn't going to be detrimental to another committee's plans.
The overall committee would be known as Salem Community Revitalization Economic Planning Team or Salem CORE-PT. The other committees would be known as Revitalization of Downtown Salem (REDO Salem), Transportation and Future Infrastructure (TRAFIC), Future Community and Concepts (Salem FC3), and Tax Incremental Financing Zone II (TIF ZoneII).
"We need to look at a way we could redo downtown Salem," Kosiba said, such as an improvement fund to redo store fronts.
One idea he said he's heard over and over is to get rid of the truck traffic downtown, which is something the TRAFIC Committee could look into and start coming up with a comprehensive plan for traffic patterns. With talk of a huge plant coming to the Hanoverton/Kensington area for the shale industry, he said they'll need to be proactive about how to handle traffic.
The Economic Development Committee took no action on the proposal, with this meeting all informational. Councilman Dave Nestic, chair of the committee, said they'll have another meeting to discuss what direction to take. He said this is the kind of stuff that needs to be done and the city needs to find a way to get it done. Some larger cities have economic development departments, but Nestic said the most effective plans are ones not appointed by the city, such as this one.
Both Councilmen Brian Whitehill and Rick Drummond, also on the committee, spoke favorably of the idea of it being a joint effort to formulate a plan. Drummond said he was a proponent of spending money to make money. Whitehill liked the idea of one committee overseeing the others so they're all working together.
Councilman Jeff Cushman questioned who would serve on the various committees, with Kosiba saying that ideally council members would be involved, chamber members and members of civic organizations.
Kosiba also talked about how the Salem Industrial Park has continued to give to the community with an estimated $14.5 million in construction across 41 properties over the years, with an estimated $135,000 in property taxes and $280,000 in income taxes annually.
He suggested a fund be established for economic development activities through revenue the city expects to receive from oil and gas leasing. Nestic said there would have to be guidelines in place on what could be presented and what type of organizations could apply if they decided to do something like that.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org