By BRADEN LAMMERS
Another round of verbal sparring broke out between Jeffersonville’s mayor and City Council as a revised Redevelopment Commission project list was presented earlier this week.
A joint work session between the city council and the redevelopment commission was called to discuss a shorter, revised list of projects that the administration would like to see completed. The administration had previously presented a list of 25 desired projects to the council, after meeting with the redevelopment commission, that would be funded by the city’s Tax Increment Finance districts. The list had been revised down to 11 total projects, three of which are tied together creating an arts and cultural district in downtown Jeffersonville.
But the project that created the most fireworks was one that has also been discussed for years.
TIF FOR 10TH
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore has asked the city council to approve a plan to use TIF dollars to pay for the widening and reconstruction of 10th Street, a request he has made previously.
The council — after receiving an update from City Engineer Andy Crouch and hearing that some federal funding had been designated for the project — agreed that they would like to see it move forward.
According to city officials, the project is slated to receive $5.5 million in federal funding through Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency — KIPDA. The remainder of the funding, $12.6 million, has been requested to be paid out of the city’s Inner City Road TIF.
Moore explained the KIPDA money will carry the project through right-of-way purchasing and utility relocation in 2015, and requested the TIF money for construction in 2016.
But before construction begins in 2016, the council said it would want to see if it could secure additional state or federal funding to pay for the project.
“It’s always been supported by the city council,” said Council President Connie Sellers of the 10th Street project. “We are willing take it through to ... construction. Tenth Street is going to get done, whether we get more money from the state or not. It’s going to have to be completed.”
Moore pressed the council to commit to using the TIF funding to complete the project.
“You can’t put projects off like this,” he said. “You either commit to them or you say, ‘no.’”
“There’s nothing being put off,” Sellers responded. “I want to try and get as much money that is not TIF money from the government as possible if we can.”
Councilman Dennis Julius added that if Jeffersonville keeps advertising that it’s going to pay for the project with cash — via TIF dollars — there is no way it will be able to secure additional funds.
Moore argued that any wait in trying to secure the funds through KIPDA would delay the project for years and there is already a line of projects seeking limited local funding.
“There is another very important project right behind 10th Street that I am trying to save for — the widening of Holmans Lane,” he said. “Our goal is to get KIPDA dollars for that project in 2017. We can’t wait three years to try and get 2017 dollars, we’ve got to fight for them now,” Moore said.
After debating back-and-forth about the project, Councilwoman Lisa Gill attempted to clarify, at least, her position on the project.
“I support this project,” she said. “There’s no way in the world that I, personally, want to hold up this project. All I’m saying is I would like to keep the communication open with KIPDA, actually go after that money and try and get that money. If we cannot get that money, then we’ll just keep on going with his dollars,” she said referring to Moore and the TIF funding.
“We’re doing that,” Moore said in response.
“If we both agree with that, then what are we arguing about?” asked Councilman Zach Payne.
The 10th street widening project is being viewed with great importance because it is a main thoroughfare through the city. Interstate 65 exit and entrance ramps will remain at 10th Street even after the completion of the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
On the opposite end of the city, where 10th Street turns into Ind. 62, it will also act as a main connector near the new east-end bridge when it’s completed. The road will also carry traffic from River Ridge Commerce Center toward downtown Jeffersonville.
“The project is something that really needs to happen,” said David Strong, with Eastside Animal Hospital and a member of the 10th Street business association. “However it gets done it needs to be a priority. People think of it as a corridor, but we think of it as a destination as well.”
Redevelopment Commissioner James Lake said he was also leery of committing too much TIF funding to projects like 10th Street.
“We need to make sure we take advantage of as much KIPDA funding as possible, or any other funding sources,” he said.
He added that regardless, the project will move forward.
“I don’t think the city can afford to pass over 10th Street,” Lake said.
Councilman Matt Owen provided a synopsis of the council’s position before moving on to the next project that it would move the project forward, in phases, and if the funding is not available through other means when construction is slated to start, TIF money would be used to pay for the construction of the project.
Councilmen Ed Zastawny, Brian Glover and Nathan Samuel were not in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.
ARTS AND CULTURAL DISTRICT
Once again the idea of creating an arts and cultural district around three entities in downtown Jeffersonville was presented to the council.
The plan is for the city to lease buildings to an arts incubator to locate in the former Gray & Wells building along Michigan Avenue; lease the former Bales Auto site on Spring Street to the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center currently located in New Albany; and to move the Clark County Museum to a site along Michigan Avenue.
A lease for the Clark County Museum has already been signed, with an out clause that was added to allow the city to reclaim the property with 90 days notice.
The out clause was added to relieve concerns for some redevelopment commissioners as the city issued a request-for-proposal, or RFP, to develop 38 properties in downtown. If a developer had a plan that would encompass those properties, then the city could reclaim the land and relocate the entity housed there.
In the meantime, Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz said the property could be turned into something beneficial.
“I felt like these were good pieces of property that we could save and do something with,” he said. “We have a very unique opportunity to get three great attractions to come into our downtown.”
Leaders of each of the organizations that would become a part of the arts and cultural district spoke in support of the plan.
Curt Peters, president of the Friends of the New Albany Fire Museum Board of Directors, made a presentation on the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center.
The fire museum, located in the former Coyle Chevrolet building up for sale in New Albany, is only open one day per week. Peters said the hope is that if the museum is able to relocate to Jeffersonville, it would open six days a week.
To support the idea that the museum would spur economic development, he told those in attendance that a four-day convention in November 2014 has already been booked for the fire museum. He also pointed to other cities that have located museums into depressed areas of town and how it eventually increased property values.
“I think it would be a great boon to the area, it would help increase the property value in that particular area and it would be nice to also link together ... with other attractions you have.” Peters said.
The other two pieces of the district were formerly part of one planned project.
An art incubator and the Clark County Museum were slated to be part of the Pilot House program, with an estimated cost at $2.3 million, to locate in a building in the former Cordon Porter school complex, according to Waiz.
Jeanne Burke, director of the Clark County Museum, said all the museum needs is a place to stay. And Dawn Struck, Jeffersonville High School Art teacher and member of the Jeffersonville Arts Alliance, along with the Arts Council of Southern Indiana, said the group would like to build on its art programs that are growing in the city. She pointed to the Jeffersonville Art Movement — JAM — sessions that are art projects open to the public each month.
The art incubator would use one building that used to be park of the Gray & Wells Auto Body shop site on Michigan Avenue.
Waiz said the price tag previously cited as the amount the previous administration had paid for the properties, about $2.4 million, included three Gray & Wells buildings. He said the cost for the three properties that would actually be included in the arts and cultural district totals about $1.5 million.
“I think this is a perfect example of why you have redevelopment,” Waiz said. “I think we’re really going to miss the boat big time if we don’t move forward on this.”
Moore pointed to Mellwood Arts center and Louisville’s NuLu district on Market Street as the desired outcome and model for revitalizing an area by enhancing the cultural district. The other option for the properties, he offered, was grim.
“The alternative is to tear it down,” he said.
THE MISSING PIECE?
Development of an additional piece of property that is owned by the Parks Authority was also questioned at Wednesday’s meeting.
Moore asked the council if it had a plan for the development of Playsquare Park, also known as Colston Park, and if it would be willing to deed the land to the redevelopment commission. The Jeffersonville Parks Authority is the entity that holds the deed to Colston Park, and the parks authority board is made up of the nine city council members.
“We though Playsquare park was going to be [included] in the [request for proposals],” Julius said. “It’s not going to get deeded over, I don’t think,” he added.
Julius explained that the parks authority would deed the land to the redevelopment commission if there was a project that was presented to transform the property in the request-for-proposal.
Moore asked the council to issue a separate RFP for the property and asked if the reason why it was not included in the RFP was because the council wanted to have control over what went into the property.
Parks Authority and council attorney Scott Lewis said if anything did go into the site it would be subject to council approval anyway.
Originally, that whole area was slated to be part of a downtown canal project trumpeted by former Mayor Tom Galligan, and per statutory requirement an amendment to the TIF would need to be approved by the council in order to develop the area, Lewis explained. It would be the same process that was completed to include the new Jeffersonville Police Station on 10th Street in the TIF plan.
“Right now, with that property missing from the RFP, the RFP is kind of a moot deal,” Lake said. “It’s eliminating the most key piece of property for the RFP. I though we voted to include that property. I really don’t know why it’s not in there.”
Jorge Lanz, owner of engineering company Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz, Inc. said the city could send out an addendum and extend the RFP deadline, to which Lake agreed.
No official action was taken at Wednesday’s meeting because it was a workshop.