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New TIF district eyed for downtown

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GREENFIELD — Wheels are turning on a financial plan that could make the dreams for revitalizing Greenfield’s downtown district a reality.

The Greenfield City Council Wednesday agreed to spend $20,000 toward legal and accounting services to create a downtown Tax Increment Finance district. The new TIF district would capture property taxes on future commercial development and put the money toward grants and revitalization projects.

With long-term goals of historic preservation, a Riley Literary Trail, harvest market park, sidewalk improvements, a splash pad and more, officials say this is a major financial step toward seeing those ideas to fruition.

“We want to preserve our historic buildings,” city controller Buzz Krohn told the council. “We want to spiff up the downtown, to make it an attractive place to make people want to come downtown.”

City and business officials spent eight months last year holding public meetings and ironing out a blueprint to transform the downtown district into a pedestrian-friendly urban center with greenways, parks and residential areas in themed districts. The council unanimously approved the revitalization plan last August, and also gave unanimous approval Wednesday to spending $20,000 of economic development income tax money toward a TIF district plan.

Joanie Fitzwater, planning and zoning administrator for the city, said a TIF district could create a steady funding stream for downtown projects. Money could also be used to match federal grants, leveraging even more funds for projects.

TIF districts are an economic development tool. Property tax revenue is captured from developments within a TIF district’s boundaries; the revenue is used to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The downtown master plan calls for renovations to historic buildings, garage parking, facade improvements and wider sidewalks along North and South streets.

“We have a very small downtown footprint, and I’d like to expand that and make it more accessible to downtown neighborhoods,” Fitzwater said.

If multi-housing units or apartment complexes were to locate downtown, Fitzwater added, the TIF district could generate revenue to create nearby amenities like parks and a splash pad for families.

Just what a TIF district could mean financially for the city is based entirely on how many new commercial and non-residential developments arise in the next few years. But one is already in the works, which sent city officials working on a fast track to get the TIF district in place soon to begin capturing taxes.

J&J Engineering plans to break ground on a new facility this spring at Osage and Center streets. Since the site would be within the boundaries of the proposed TIF district, the new machine shop could eventually generate nearly $25,000 of revenue annually for downtown revi talization, Krohn said.

That’s why Krohn and Fitzwater asked the council to make the financial commitment Wednesday. If a TIF district plan is ironed out over the next month, the city’s redevelopment commission could adopt it by March 1 in time for the city to start generating revenue.

The proposed district would be bordered mostly by Osage Street to the south, Swope Street to the east and Broadway Street to the west.  The northern boundary of the district varies from Main Street to Grant Street.

A small piece of land behind Hancock Regional Hospital is an outlier: it could be included in the district because it’s the site of a possible new office complex, Krohn said, which could generate nearly $100,000 more in annual revenue for the downtown revitalization.

Besides, Fitzwater added, including land near HRH could give the hospital a better connection to the downtown district. A pedestrian path could be built to connect the hospital to downtown’s restaurants and shops.

There are several TIF districts in Hancock County. Greenfield’s northern TIF district along the Interstate 70 corridor has generated nearly $27 million over the last 20 years for infrastructure improvements. There is also a TIF district along the Mt. Comfort Road corridor, and Cumberland town officials are weighing a downtown TIF district for their community.

Krohn said it’s important to realize that TIF districts capture funding from taxes on future developments, so schools, libraries and government offices would not lose the revenue they currently receive from the area.

Still, he acknowledged that historically TIF districts are not very popular with school officials, who look forward to new tax revenue from businesses. Krohn said city officials have already been meeting with school officials to explain the potential new TIF district.

City council members were on board with the idea of a downtown TIF district. Greg Carwein said he especially liked the fact that the money could be used to leverage grants for big projects.

“We need to be a stakeholder,” Carwein said.

Jason Horning pointed out that city and business officials spent a lot of time ironing out downtown revitalization goals last year.

“If we don’t take steps on taking action on that plan, we’ve wasted our time and money,” he said.

Mayor Chuck Fewell added, “The other side of it is, we could lose the downtown if we don’t.”

Judy Swift agreed officials should take the first financial step toward making the downtown revitalization goals a reality.

“It’s important everyone understands our downtown is the core of our city,” Swift said. “It’s vital we take care of it.”

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