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City will consider follow up to downtown plan

The final draft of Park Rapids' downtown plan isn't finished yet, but Monday the city council agreed to consider spending money on a plan for revitalization financing options.

The final draft of Park Rapids' downtown plan isn't finished yet, but Monday the city council agreed to consider spending money on a plan for revitalization financing options.

RDG consultants of Omaha has been working on the plan for the greater downtown area since last winter and the final draft is due next month.

The city paid $40,000 for the plan with the balance of the cost coming from Industries for Park Rapids.

David Collins, executive director of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, explained there is some urgency to addressing finances.

Collins told the council a developer of a 50,000-square-foot "retail facility" is looking at the downtown area. The city needs to be in a position to take advantage of the potential of using tax increment financing (TIF), not to help the retailer but to help pay for other improvements, Collins said.

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The downtown plan also identifies the need for a hotel/convention center, but to recruit one, Collins said, the city needs a feasibility study.

Collins also said he hears concerns about special assessments related to Main street infrastructure improvements. The council can play a role in helping ease that burden on downtown businesses as well, Collins said.

According to Collins, RDG will bring a draft of the final downtown plan about Nov. 9.

Collins said RDG will do a retreat at no extra cost to assign timelines and responsibilities for implementing the plan. The retreat could include council members, the downtown task force and other community leaders, he said.

"How do we ensure we don't let it just sit on the shelf?" he asked.

"I'm not clear who's going to finance it," said council member Ted Godfrey, who at an earlier meeting asked why Collins was involved in taking the next step.

Collins said looking at hiring a financial consultant seemed logical. He said he contacted Dave Callister, financial advisor with Ehlers & Associates, with former city administrator Brian Weuve's permission.

Callister was here Monday to meet with the council on other financial matters.

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Collins explained that when RDG's plan is final, it will suggest public and private financing as sources. TIF is one way, Collins said. "You need to decide on assessment options. With Ehlers' involvement, you can start answering those questions."

"RDG's is not a financial plan. That is the next step," agreed council member Dave W. Konshok, who also serves on the downtown task force.

"The main thing now is Main street improvements," Collins added. Utility work on Main Avenue is scheduled to start in 2008 and be completed in 2009.

"It can be a burden on downtown merchants, but if you can leverage money from other sources, it can help," said Callister. If assessments are too costly, it can be a disincentive for businesses to locate there, he explained.

If development is important, he added, a subsidy can help reinvigorate the downtown. A study can show how assessments will impact businesses. "First you have to get the final report and then you can look at the what-ifs," Callister said.

"It is a time-consuming process so we would like to be ready," Collins added.

Mayor Nancy Carroll asked if a Small Cities Development grant might be an option.

Callister, a former city administrator, said some grant money might be available, depending on what the Legislature decides from year to year. Local banks may be able to do low-interest loans, he added. "It can be a multi-pronged approach."

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"I agree it will take a lot of work ahead of time," said council member Gene Kinkel.

"Some cities are aggressive about getting money together. Some cities aren't involved at all," Callister said. "It depends on what your comfort level is, but with new improvements and more business, it makes people want to reinvest."

In answer to a council member's question about how downtown revitalization might impact property values, Collins said his experience is it will improve them by two to three times.

Carroll asked how long it would take to finalize a financial plan to follow up the RDG plan.

Callister said it depends on the size. If it's only four blocks, it could be done by spring, he said.

Council member Clyde Zirkle said the council needs to remember who the city's taxpayers are. "It seems like we have to do the work and the county gets more of the benefit (of the additional tax base)."

Collins said at this point the question is can the city afford not to invest more in downtown.

"If we do it right, it shouldn't have a huge impact on our homeowners," said Carroll. "I would like to see us move forward."

Zirkle said he is against putting money into a financial plan.

Godfrey said he would want to see an estimate before deciding whether or not to proceed. "I'm real reluctant to vote on it," he said. "I've heard a lot of comments on it."

But the council agreed to have Callister come with a cost estimate for a financial plan based on RDG's Nov. 9 draft.

luannh@parkrapidsenterpise.com

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