Downtown group approves amendment for Civic Center repairs; TIF application for private development on tonight’s Commission agenda
The Downtown Development Partnership voted unanimously to recommend approval of a proposed amendment to the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan.
During the DDP’s Aug. 26 meeting, Craig Raymond, city planning director, told the group that the plan amendment is needed to specify the Civic Center as a focus so that the city can use tax increment financing funds to repair the facade and roof.
The amendment was recommended by the city’s outside bond/TIF counsel to ensure its in compliance with state law and though it includes some other known needs for the Civic Center, Raymond said staff if only bringing a TIF application for the facade and roof repairs.
Raymond said he understands that some people don’t agree that the Civic Center should be using TIF money because the building doesn’t generate increment back into the downtown TIF, but he said that’s true of many of the projects that have received TIF funds.
The Civic Center includes the Convention Center and the Mansfield Theater, Raymond said, and “it would be a disservice to dismiss the positive effect those facilities have on the downtown.”
“I understand what people are saying when they express reservations about the Civic Center using those funds, but there’s no question in my mind when you look at the statutory language, it actually puts a preference and an emphasis on public infrastructure and facilities,” Raymond said. “I don’t think anybody could argue that there isn’t a heavy emphasis on public facilities” in the statute.
The city’s application for TIF funds for use in paying the annual debt service on the estimated $5.5 million Civic Center project will be a separate action later this fall.
Brett Doney, of the Great Falls Development Authority and a DDP member, said he can understand why the city’s bond counsel wants the Civic Center mentioned specifically and said that the group needed to keep their focus on the proposed amendment to the urban renewal plan since that was the action item on their agenda.
Raymond suggested to the DDP that the group develop a process for reviewing TIF applications to ensure consistency and suggested looking at the City Commission’s review criteria for the applications.
Doney said that in 2013, he drafted review criteria for the DDP to consider and suggested they revisit that since they never acted on that criteria.
Doney encouraged the group to make updating the full plan a priority soon.
“This was a very ambitious plan and if you read through the 82 goals, we’ve made good progress on some of these goals but the majority of them, we have not,” Doney said. “There’s a lot of things here the city commission unanimously set out to do a number of years ago that we haven’t gotten done yet.”
Now that there’s funds in the downtown TIF, Doney said the group should go back through the plan.
Joan Redeen of the Business Improvement District and DDP member said she’d also like to see an update to the Downtown Master Plan, which was last updated in 2011.
Doney said the Civic Center has a role in driving traffic downtown and said the political issue regarding TIFs in the Legislature has been focused on process and using taxpayer money to support private industry and redevelopment.
“Great Falls has always been exemplary,” in regards to the process, Doney said.
He said that using taxpayer dollars, which is what TIF funds are, could be done to support private development with a carefully thought out program.
The City Commission will consider the plan amendment on first reading during their Sept. 1 meeting and be asked to set a pubic hearing on the item for their Oct. 6 meeting.
The first test of the City Commission’s appetite for approving TIF funding for private development will be during the Sept. 1 meeting.
Owners of the Metropolitan Building at 313-315 Central Avenue have requested $132,392 of TIF funds for reconstruction of the public sidewalk and vault along Central, the installation of a fire suppression system and interior demolition work.
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The property owners initially applied for $84,065 in TIF funds but recently amended the application to add the demolition work, increasing the cost.
Owner Keith Cron owns Hygienix and is moving his office to the second floor, which is currently being used as apartments. He’s been working out of his home for the last two years.
Brush Crazy will remain at 315 Central and Mountain Wave Distilling will go into 313 Central. That space is currently being renovated for the new distillery.
The Crons created Metropolitan LLC to purchase and finance the purchase of the building and will be using Opportunity Zone financing, as are the developers of the apartments over Mighty Mo Brewing Company and the Milwaukee Station project.
Keith Cron wrote in his TIF application that he believes the expenses are allowable under state law, but city staff and legal counsel don’t consider the fire suppression and interior demolition portions of the request appropriate under state and local review criteria, according to the staff report.
Staff does recommend approving $25,440 specifically for the reconstruction of Central Avenue public sidewalk and vault adjoining the project site.