It seems that it is necessary to back up the trains on the urban renewal district debate. Since writing about the issue a couple of weeks ago, I’ve received a couple of letters to the editor and a couple of posts at my blog. The responses have been largely arguments against urban renewal districts, that Kuna just shouldn’t even go there.
I feel this is an important and good debate, and I think it’s good to step back and discuss the merits and drawbacks of urban renewal to see if there’s some sort of middle ground (time limits on frozen values, who is elected to run the district, limits on indebtedness, etc.)
Properties within an urban renewal district still pay taxes to pay for services up to a “frozen” amount, the amount at the time of the formation of the district. Property owners still pay money to the library district, the fire district, the cemetery district, etc.
Without urban renewal, though, you’re probably just going to see stagnation of property values and even worse, a decline in property values, which would provide less property tax revenue for everyone. Property owners, particularly in historic downtowns, need more help because the buildings are older, infrastructure is older, existing sidewalks need to be upgraded and widened, aging facades need to be improved, parking lots need to be carved out of existing developed spaces — all problems that new buildings don’t face.
Everyone benefits from an urban renewal district because it improves a city’s core, its identity, attracting other businesses and investors and bringing residents down to the rehabilitated area. With more businesses, the tax burden is eased on everyone.
The reality is that time and again, when a city does nothing, what has happened across the country is that these downtowns deteriorate and become a blight and a drag on the entire community. The record is rife with American cities that let their historic downtowns deteriorate only to come back years later to try to rehabilitate them.
The reason the area along Kuna’s Main Street is unique is because these are historic structures that speak to Kuna’s history, which is its identity. A Walgreen’s or Outback Steakhouse, while providing vital services to residents, don’t really distinguish themselves as unique to Kuna. Further, because these are older buildings with older infrastructure, they need a little more help than a brand new building.
In addition, a major problem we have here in Kuna is one of perception. Downtown is not just a bunch of bars. In downtown, we have a gift shop, an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a hardware store, a couple of thrift stores, a consignment shop, convenience stores and gas stations, a post office, a community hall, as well as service offices, such as a newspaper, investment adviser, dog grooming, insurance, accountant.
But make no mistake, bars and restaurants are a major draw to bring people downtown. They are the foundation upon which you get people downtown, walking around, visiting, browsing, window-shopping, which leads to other businesses moving downtown. The historic downtown is the only place that can provide a unique experience that tells people, “You are in Kuna.”
Finally, what alternative is there? If the city does nothing, the historic downtown will continue to deteriorate, businesses will continue to flee downtown and move into nondescript strip malls scattered here and there, and the downtown buildings will become vacant shells that are a blight on our city. Then what?