City Council's Committee of the Whole heard comments, made comments and asked questions about the Downtown Salem Technical Advisory Committee revitalization proposal Thursday night.
The conclusion reached by Councilman Dave Nestic, who chairs Committee of the Whole, was that a group effort is needed to reach what everyone seems to want: a vibrant, revitalized downtown where businesses can thrive and a positive feeling is evident.
Nestic told members of the TAC he wants to get together with Mayor John Berlin and other organizations, such as the Community Improvement Corporation, the Salem Area Industrial Development Corporation (SAIDC), Salem Area Chamber of Commerce and others to figure out a response to the proposal.
"You gotta give us a little bit of time on this," he said.
In Nestic's opinion, some of the findings in the proposal merit serious consideration. He suggested the next step was to get together with groups and organizations already working on projects and start putting together a five-year action plan with the idea of accomplishing some of the ideas over time.
He started the session by talking about what's already been done, such as the walking tour hosted by the Chamber last year to look at the condition of downtown, a meeting about the results of the walking tour and the reforming of the CIC, which he said can act like a Port Authority and acquire property and renovate it for renewed use. He said the TAC brought everything to the forefront.
Norbert and Tammy Hettinga, owners of Lion and Lamb bookstore on Broadway, each asked questions about the TAC proposal, reading sections from the proposal as it appeared on the Downtown Salem TAC Facebook page. They raised concerns about the building code section and what would be required of building owners through the code since it was unknown at this point.
Tammy asked about suggested tax abatements and fees related to the building department proposal for the city and about compensation for the developer, parking behind buildings and costs for the city, which said ultimately means the taxpayers.
"I don't think the people of Salem should shoulder the cost," she said.
Norbert said he understood there are a lot of good intentions with the TAC proposal, but he also said some of the ideas will raise operating costs for building owners and businesses, pointing to an alarm system and whether sprinklers would be involved and the monitoring fee for the alarm, which would add to the overhead for businesses already struggling to make a profit or just break even.
He agreed something needed done, but asked that council members not allow the TAC proposals to raise their overhead costs, which in turn would require an increase to their prices.
Nestic pointed out that council did not have an obligation to approve or disapprove the TAC proposal, they just have to consider it. He said they can't impose a tax like what was suggested without voter approval.
Councilman K. Bret Apple talked about the $50 tax that was mentioned to pay for some of the city's cost and statistics in the report highlighting poverty in the area for 20 percent of the population.
"Yet we're going to ask them for the money?" he said.
Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey said the city should have had minimum structural standards for buildings years ago and said the idea of a building code committee wasn't necessarily a bad thing. She agreed some points made by Councilman Jeff Cushman, saying she didn't believe the city should be investing money to fix up private buildings. Both she and Councilman Rick Drummond, though, said the citizens of Salem do have a stake in what happens in the downtown.
Cushman gave praise to the work done by the TAC, but said he had a problem with the idea of a bailout for building owners who didn't take care of their buildings. If their building needs repaired, they need to fix it. Councilman Brian Whitehill noted that government, though, can give tools for businesses to succeed, saying he likes the idea of a public/private partnership.
Lisa Cahill, a member of the TAC, responded to some of the questions of council members and the concerns raised by the Hettingas. She said there have been misconceptions related to funding and noted that building owners will be paying for their own building renovations. She pointed out the building regulations don't exist yet, but the committee felt safety needed to be addressed in the proposal.
"This is the beginning of the discussion," she said.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org