Downtown board approves creative tax plan

Go-ahead given for Main Street plan

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Sept 19, 2007 - The Downtown Revitalization Board gave its approval Tuesday night to a creative plan that would provide funding for downtown improvements.

Tree-lined brick streets were included in the plan for a redesign of Main Street, approved Tuesday by the Downtown Revitalization Board.

The board also approved a parking and design plan for Main Street.

Up first on the agenda for Tuesday's regular meeting of the board was a presentation on Tax Increment Financing by Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell.

Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, plans allow governmental entities to capture the taxes on the rising property values in areas undergoing development, then reinvestment those tax dollars into the area.

"It captures all of the tax revenue created by an improving business environment downtown and dedicates it to new improvements downtown," Maxwell wrote in a memo outlining the mechanics of TIFs  to Sulphur Springs City Council members.

A TIF plan would require approval from the City Council, and a separate board would be created to oversee it.

City staffers are currently working on ideas to spruce up downtown, and Maxwell has proposed the city help stimulate private development with some public investment, such as improvements to common areas and programs like grants to help businesses clean up their building facades.

Currently, the downtown properties are valued at $13.2 million. Under a TIF plan, the city would pass an ordinance effectively freezing that number for general fund taxing purposes. Any revenue from increases in property values above that amount downtown would be dedicated to new development in the TIF zone.

Doubling of property values would generate $58,000 per year for downtown projects.

"A simple doubling of assessed valuation is not only possible, but probable, because real estate values are depressed to begin with," Maxwell wrote in his memo to the council.

Maxwell said in August he suspected property values downtown were already taking an upturn simply because people were talking about making improvements to the area.

In other business, a redesign of Main Street received approval from the downtown board Tuesday.

The city had planned to rebuild Main Street following the Fourth of July, but problems with the original parking plan led to a total makeover of the street.

Community planning specialists Ian Lockwood and Raj Mohabeer from Florida presented the design plan to the revitalization board in August. The design proposal will now be included for approval on the City Council agenda for October. Once approved by the council, construction drawings can be ordered.

Maxwell said if all goes right, the work could begin after the end of the year.

"January is the hope right now," he said.

The design includes two-way traffic; tree-lined brick streets;  awning and facade makeovers; wider sidewalks; and stop signs instead of traffic lights.

The design isn't just for aesthetic appeal — it makes the area more attractive to pedestrian traffic and shoppers.

The feel of the brick road and presence of the trees give the illusion of narrowing the street, making traffic slow down voluntarily. And with a bricks street, crews won't have to tear up and repair asphalt when underground repairs are made.

"Bulb-out" corners and clearly marked crossing areas for foot traffic also increase safety for pedestrians.

Storefront awnings and shade trees will make the site cooler for pedestrians. Wider sidewalks don't just make it easier to walk — they also allow businesses to put tables or displays to attract customers.

Taking out traffic lights means motorists won't feel the need to speed up to beat a red light, but also eliminates the ugly boxes and controllers that have to be installed on the sidewalk.

The plan does not eliminate parallel parking, but does make the parking spaces roomier. 

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