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Destination downtown
Decatur councilmen say they'll approve $240,000 in seed money for revitalization efforts

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

A Decatur group wants to revitalize downtown Decatur by 2010, transforming it into an epicenter of community activities that could rival tourism destinations throughout the Southeast.

Funding the initiative appears a lock, after Rick Paler and other members of the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority pitched their lofty goals Monday to the City Council.

"We're not asking for a handout, just seed money upfront," Paler said. "We want to hire a director, and we're asking for $80,000 per year for the next three years so the director's not pounding the pavement to raise his own salary."

Paler said the nine-member, volunteer board would work to make the organization self-sufficient after three years.

"If that's the case, the city will see a return on its investment," Paler said. "Our main goal is to get Calhoun (Community College) downtown. If we pull that off, it will be an economic driver that certainly will strengthen our hand."

All five councilmen support funding the organization, but some asked if its head could also direct the city's business incubator, an unfilled position Councilman Gary Hammon said was funded in this year's budget.

"That would be a very good use of the position," Hammon said.

"I know these people and trust Rick Paler, Blake Temple, Melissa Craig and Carl Cole. If they tell you it's raining, you better grab an umbrella."

Councilman David Bolding said the council could vote on funding the position after the city's mid-year budget review.

"The city pays a lot of money to work plans up and put them on a shelf," Bolding told the board members. "I'm excited to think downtown Decatur will be vibrant one day. I'm glad you've shown the leadership to get us to this point."

Mayor Don Kyle said the mid-year review would likely come within the next two weeks.

"Once we review and see where the money is, then we'll move on it," Bolding said.

Paler said the Downtown Redevelopment Authority already has a leading candidate for the director's position but declined to name the individual.

"We wouldn't have to advertise the position," Paler said. "We're in discussion with somebody right now, but we wouldn't want to name that person until the city funds the position."

Paler said he has asked Morgan County Commission Chairman John Glasscock for help funding the organization and that the board has also been in contact with Michelle Jordan, director of the city's Community Development and Planning departments, for help obtaining federal grants.

Board member John Thornton said it is the organization's goal to hire a director within the next four to six months.

"The budget is still a work in progress," Thornton said. "But we'll have a budget of between $155,000 and $170,000. It will be subject to substantial changes. We'd rather hire a director and let the director tweak the numbers."

Goals to revitalize downtown Decatur

Goals for the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority, which has a 31/2-mile jurisdiction from the city’s center, include:

  • Encourage a wide range of residential development in the city’s center.

  • Recruit a cross section of merchants to provide a unique draw for the city center.

  • Recruit new targeted businesses compatible with existing business in the city center.

  • Assist existing businesses in the city center with their expansion needs.

  • Establish incentives to promote new development in the city center, including the establishment of a Revolving Loan Fund.

  • Develop and implement a seamless, one-stop process to enable new development in the city center, including Web site links to city and county departments.

  • Inventory historic buildings in the city center to determine what properties are available for rehabilitation/redevelopment.

  • Establish satellite college/university campus in the city center.

  • Establish a quite zone in the city center in cooperation with the railroads and state Department of Transportation.

  • Encourage the city to donate existing vacant properties for rehabilitation and sale.

  • Create a master plan for riverfront development per Envision Decatur.

  • Establish a database of available riverfront properties for development in concert with city center revitalization.

  • Establish a riverfront redevelopment-zoning district.

  • Promote the development of Ingalls Harbor per Envision Decatur.

  • Enhance the bridge entryway into Decatur.

  • Establish a trolley system connecting the riverfront development with points of interest in the city center.

  • Create a technology-oriented business park.

  • Help create transportation linkages from West Town Village to the city center.

  • Advocate pedestrian linkages throughout the area known as Decatur Commons.

  • Assist in the development of a technical high school campus.

  • Create a campus-like setting for an assisted-living center.

  • Establish a streetscape plan for the city center.

  • Expand and enhance lighting in the city center.

  • Establish permanent markers at each of the five entranceways into Decatur.

  • Preserve the historic character of downtown buildings.

  • Create and implement a façade grant program to assist city center building owners to repair and revitalize their building fronts.

  • Restore historic painted advertising on buildings in the city center.

    ? Complete the bicycle trail.

  • Establish a city center brand and identity package consistent with branding plans of the city of Decatur.

  • Create awareness of the city center.

  • Create and implement events to draw people to the city center.

  • Design and implement signage/way-finding for the city center.

  • Create a city center Web site that provides information regarding available properties for redevelopment.

  • Provide links on Web site to enable owners and developers to access and download all necessary forms for municipal licenses.

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