Nelsonville signals interest in redevelopment district

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By Larry Di Giovanni, Messenger Staff Journalist

Oct 6, 2017

NELSONVILLE — A Downtown Redevelopment District that would cost the city of Nelsonville nothing to plan or implement has captured city leaders’ interest.

The city’s Planning and Development Committee received a presentation Wednesday from Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, and Nate Green of The Montrose Group, LLC. The Columbus-based Montrose Group is the Economic Development Council’s downtown redevelopment district consultant.

Downtown Redevelopment Districts, or DRDs, help redevelop business parcels (including existing businesses and yet-to-be developed projects) which are tied to historic preservation. In Nelsonville’s case, Green explained, business properties within a 10-acre area of the historic downtown — in and around Public Square — would benefit from a DRD.

DRDs require a registered historic “anchor” of which Nelsonville has a few, including the Historic Downtown District itself, Stuart’s Opera House and the Dew House Hotel. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The redevelopment districts start with a plan taken from a list of parcels that are likely to have some kind development activity occurring over the next 10 to 30 years. One or more buildings in the targeted 10-acre area are initially improved through financing that involves grants and loans.

Green said funds from increased property tax values over their former values are invested back into the 10-acre area to improve more business parcels on the list.

Marrs-Maxfield and Green said they would be willing to pay the costs to cover creating an economic development plan for a Nelsonville Downtown Redevelopment District. First, however, there are steps the city must take, which include passing an ordinance establishing a DRD project in cooperation with the Economic Development Council, as well as holding a public hearing.

Nelsonville’s DRD plan must also receive approval from the Nelsonville-York School District.

“The purpose of this is to be forward-thinking, and thinking about the long-term,” Marrs-Maxfield said.

Green said the property tax increases can be invested in four areas: historic structure redevelopment; infrastructure such as roads and streetscapes; funding historic preservation organizations; and for use in a technology corridor.

The city of Athens is already involved and will have as many as four Downtown Redevelopment Districts, their locations being in the West Union Street corridor, Marrs-Maxfield said. The size of the West Union area is why as many of four DRDs will be necessary, she added.

 She also explained that Downtown Redevelopment Districts are part of the Economic Development Council’s plan to assist business growth throughout the county.

Micah Covert, president of the Nelsonville-York Board of Education, attended Wednesday’s meeting and provided City Manager Charles Barga a list of business parcels within a projected 10-acre DRD project site. Green explained that although the redevelopment area is up to 10 acres, the affected parcels do not have to be contiguous.

Members of the Nelsonville Planning and Development Committee who were present include City Council President Kevin Dotson and Councilwoman Linda Watkins. Both said they would advocate proceeding on a DRD project with their fellow council members.

Green and Marrs-Maxfield said the historic Fraternal Order of Eagles building on West Washington Street, which is currently a condemned property due to its back wall in a state of near-collapse, could be a beneficiary of this program.

Two members of the Hocking College Board of Trustees, Covert and Tom Johnson, told city officials the college is interested in acquiring the Eagles building. Hocking College may pursue state and federal funds to repair the structure.

Johnson said the college’s plans for the Eagles building, if the purchase is made, would be to have it used as part of the college’s hospitality program. Dotson said an engineering firm has estimated that stabilizing the back wall of the building would cost a minimum of $80,000.