November 25, 2013

Downtown Logansport streetscape projects get yellow light

Redevelopment commission says funds needed for future economic development.

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — The Logansport Redevelopment Commission has decided to hold off on a downtown streetscape project it originally approved this spring, with members saying the funds will be needed for future economic development projects.

Logansport Municipal Utilities Superintendent Paul Hartman pitched the plan in May to replace downtown streetlights, enhance sidewalks with decorative blocks and make sidewalks more accessible for those with disabilities. He said the five-phase project would cost about $380,000 and likely take about five years.

The commission unanimously approved Hartman’s request of $80,000 from the downtown tax increment financing district fund for the first phase of the project, but at a recent meeting announced it would like to hold off in order to reserve funds for upcoming economic development projects.

“We asked [Hartman] to consider putting it on hold,” said Logansport City Councilman Bob Bishop, president of the commission. “We need funds for redevelopment... that’s our purpose.”

The commission decided to wait on the streetscape project for one year. There was no vote on the matter, but rather a general consensus among commission members.

Logansport City Councilman Joe Buck, a member of the commission, said the funds would be better put toward economic development, which will create jobs and increase the city’s tax base.

Logansport City Councilman Charlie Hastings, also a member of the commission, said he was looking at the decision from a position of “livable-wage jobs, and we don’t have that in Logansport.”

Hartman, who has not started on the streetscape project, other than gathering quotes, respected the board’s decision.

“I’m fine with it,” he said.

Mike McCord, a nonvoting member of the commission representing the Logansport Community School Corporation, expressed his disagreement with the decision at the meeting.

“I can’t trust you guys for that,” he said to commission members regarding their pledge to revisit the streetscape projects in one year.

McCord said the decision maintains a negative precedent that started when the current commission backed out of an evolving agreement started by the commission under the city’s previous administration.

The previous commission had been working with Little Turtle Waterway on a plan to develop public restrooms on the former Salvation Army building property, which the city purchased almost one year ago.

Before the deal regarding the restrooms could be finalized, commission members resigned over their disagreement with Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin’s and City Council’s insistence on using tax increment financing funds to lure a movie theater to town, which opened last month. The current commission has shown no signs of continuing the public restrooms initiative with Little Turtle Waterway and the former Salvation Army building remains in a holding pattern.

McCord added the commission’s and city council’s recent approval of consolidating the city’s tax increment financing, or TIF, districts would make it even more difficult to see the streetscape projects through.

Those who supported the consolidation said combining all of the districts will increase flexibility by allowing all of the funds from all of the districts to be used throughout.

McCord contested this at the meeting, saying it will instead force each area to compete for the same pot of money and that it would have been more suitable to have left each district to its own funds.

Companies will likely be more drawn to the city’s newer east side, McCord said, resulting in more TIF dollars going there and leaving older districts like downtown little chance for improvement.

“He’s going to have to fight for downtown sidewalks,” McCord said, referring to Hartman.

Bishop and other commission members disputed this, referring to the city’s plans to develop senior housing downtown that ended up not coming to fruition after merchants rallied against it.

The TIF district consolidation has yet to be finalized, as it was made possible through the city’s recent annexation of two territories south of the city. Landowners formally remonstrated against the annexation and a lawsuit is pending in Cass County Superior Court II.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK