GREENFIELD — Dreams for a revitalized downtown could become a reality now that city officials have set aside a funding mechanism to help pay for facade improvements, pedestrian trails and more.
The Greenfield Redevelopment Commission Wednesday gave unanimous approval to a plan to create a downtown Tax Increment Finance district. Though there were a few concerns raised from Greenfield-Central school officials over how the pot of money could adversely affect school funding, city officials said the plan will be best for the community overall to see economic growth in the downtown district.
“Downtown has deteriorated,” said RDC President Joe Smith. “We need to do something.”
The TIF district will capture property taxes for the next 25 years on new commercial development in the downtown area. Money will be put toward grants and revitalization projects.
The TIF district has been on the city’s long-range plan since 2004. Last year, a series of public meetings was held to dream about a pedestrian-friendly downtown with greenways, parks and residential areas.
The district is 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, with a small strip including land adjacent to Hancock Regional Hospital with the goal of one day building a pedestrian path to link downtown with HRH.
How much the TIF district could generate in revenue every year is unknown. Its success will depend on how much commercial development comes to the area in the next 2½ decades. But whatever property tax revenue is captured in the district will go directly toward downtown improvements, not to units of government like the schools.
Harold Olin, who will take the reins this summer as G-C superintendent, said while monetary projections are low for now, it’s important to remember that the city’s north side TIF district has siphoned plenty of money from the schools over the years.
Olin asked for some kind of modification in the financing for the district. He pointed out that if a new apartment complex comes to downtown as the revitalization plan envisions, more children will be added to schools’ enrollment.
“You will be pulling funds for (downtown), but we would not be able to pull funds for buses or supplies that schools need,” he said.
G-C board member Dan Leary asked the board to consider a shorter sunset clause for the TIF district.
“From the point of a school official, 25 years is an eternity,” he said. “A lot can happen in 25 years.”
RDC member Kevin Hudziak said he’s sensitive to school concerns, especially because of funding woes Mt. Vernon schools face. But he said if the downtown district is improved, more people could move to Greenfield, which would mean more money to all local units of government. The RDC could always remove the district in the future, he added.
Fellow RDC member Joe Turner said the commission wants to bring in more business and improve the downtown district, which would benefit the community.
“We want to go big, but we’re going to be reasonable about it,” Turner said. “We aren’t going to tell the school corporation to close down five schools because we want to have a facade (improvement) on State and Main.”
After the commission gave unanimous approval, school officials shook hands with them and said they were pleased their voice was heard.
Linda Gellert, the outgoing G-C superintendent, had asked city officials earlier this year about giving the school system a break on utility bills as compensation. Gellert did not bring up the idea Wednesday but said after the meeting she was pleased city officials listened to their worries. She said she remains hopeful they will be open to working with the schools in the future should funding problems become too great.
Olin said he, too, felt like the board was open to hearing from school officials again.
“I’m a little disappointed, but I understand,” he said. “(TIF districts) are good for Greenfield, good for the community. It’s just disappointing they’re pulling money away from students.”
All of the school officials said they were in favor of a revitalized downtown, and acknowledged this was a way the city could turn goals into reality.
Plans call for a Riley Literary Trail, a new harvest market park, a splash pad, enhanced building facades, improved sidewalks and even a zip line near the Pennsy Trail. City planner Joanie Fitzwater said she was pleased with Wednesday’s vote because it gives the city seed money to start applying for grants and making improvements.
“It takes us from a city that’s literally crumbling … to the central business district it should be,” she said. “Every little bit helps, and it helps if we have some way to be a guiding force rather than just a city to sit back and wait for development to come to it.”