REEDSPORT — This year marks the 10th for the city's urban renewal district to help bring new life to the downtown area.
Maybe as a resident you've not heard of the urban renewal district but city leaders hope you've seen what the district does — from Main Street to building upkeep to levee certification.
Previous councilors approved the district by ordinance July 4, 2007. As outlined in the 2017-2018 city budget, councilors established the district that year "for the purpose of undertaking redevelopment activities...."
The district's set to end in 2027.
"The City Council serves as the Urban Renewal Agency governing body and has appointed an Urban Renewal Advisory Committee," as provided and explained in the 2017-18 budget document. In turn, the committee reviews the staff's proposed budget and then votes to recommend the budget to the budget committee.
Mayor Linda McCollum estimates not many residents know of the district.
She examined what other cities had done. So for example, politicians in such communities as Lincoln City bought vacant buildings.
"We had more pertinent issues that the money had to go to," the mayor said.
In all, this is a look at 20 years for the district but McCollum downplays this.
"Well, 10 years isn't a very long time in terms of taking care of major problems in a city," she said. "That's just a blink of an eye."
"The ones that you see are the Main Street improvements and the façade improvements — the ones that people can see," the mayor noted.
A topic that comes up every year for the council and city staff is that of the levee. Councilors agree the structure must have work to keep residents safe from flood waters. Laborers built the levee in 1968. Yet it's aging and over time city staff have desperately sought federal dollars.
"That is vital," McCollum emphasized. "We've got to get our levee fixed. So it's not something that everybody can see but that has to happen."
Repairs to the levee mean the feds will approve levee certification. If federal personnel don't approve this, that means property owners' insurance will spike.
The ins and outs of urban renewal
How does urban renewal work?
First, once a community creates a district, the value of all property within that district is calculated. Then this becomes the "frozen" base amount of property tax for an area. Secondly, more money comes in over time from public and private investments and as property value goes up, all new tax revenue above the frozen base level flows to an urban renewal fund to build an area back up. Eventually, the district is ended or retired once councilors have completed their work of investment and of course once the debt has been repaid. Property taxes are then allocated among taxing districts.
Locally, if you want to help determine the city's course, you can serve on the URD advisory committee.
Reedsport City Administrative Assistant Deanna Schafer said volunteers are being sought for the committee. Current members are Darlene Ash, Debbie Yates and Lee Bridge. She noted that the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee "always meets before (budget adoption) every year," presenting their recommendations to the council.
"We need new people," Mayor McCollum said. "We wish that more people would take an interest." In all the committee should ideally have seven members.
Where should tax money go?
Residents weighed in on what's been accomplished over time and what still needs to happen.
Merchant Laura Brandon moved with her parents to Reedsport when she was 9 months old. She opened her dance studio in the fall of 1998.
Brandon first looked back before city leaders established the district.
"When my studio was on North Fourth, I would have liked to have seen the sidewalks on the side streets improved," the studio owner said, adding that there were many cracks plus crumbling made sidewalks dangerous. Weeds added to the problem.
Brandon believes that for some structures the solution is simple.
"Many of the buildings seem to be falling apart too," the merchant said. If they are not rentable, they should be destroyed. For example the building across from the old studio hasn't had a business in it for years. There used to be several cats living around and in it. It should be destroyed I feel."
The dance studio owner however has observed some improvements in the last decade.
"Downtown Main Street is looking better but the side streets are not," Brandon said, adding that these have been "mostly cosmetic," including new facades, signs and painting.
The desire for change isn't unique to business owners. Some Reedsport Community Charter School students also want more for the town.
Sophomore Lucius Bouslough admitted he's not too familiar what an urban renewal district is and how it relates to Reedsport. However he sees the necessity for improvements.
"I definitely do believe that the levee system needs to be remodeled and updated because it's been 30 to 45 years since something's been done," Bouslough said. "Only so much duct tape can be put on."
Financial investments must be spent on buildings that need work at the "first sign of anything going bad," Bouslough said. So for example, if there's black mold or rodent infestation, URD tax dollars should be used to eradicate these troubles.
Should tax money be used to demolish some structures?
"It depends on what the severity of the building is," he said.
RCCS senior Essie Cardoso serves as a city volunteer on the planning commission. She grew up in Reedsport.
"When I say this, I say this for most people my age," Cardoso said. "I have not once heard about the urban renewal district. In my opinion, I wish I did because it would be valuable knowledge to be aware of. I wouldn't say it's the city officials' fault but more that some people aren't involved enough."
"Also it makes it more likely for everyone in the community to be pleased to know where this money is going," Cardoso said. "Honestly I guessed that the Main Street Program was being funded by this but knew nothing else. To me, stuff like this would be good to tell the students even if some don't care because there are those who want to know what's going on in our community."
Cardoso expressed her excitement over a new mural.
"I loved how they painted the wall near the Discovery Center," she said. "It brings more culture to our town and makes tourists want to stop and look around this cute, unique town."
Yet more work remains in her opinion.
"We need to add more activities for people to do in Reedsport because everyone always complains about how there's nothing to do here," the senior said. "Therefore we should also use the urban renewal (district) to create hiking trails, mini shops, more places to eat and maybe a drive-in theater."
"Also we could retouch the towns' buildings, such as they are doing with McDonald's to make it appear more modern and new," Cardoso said.
Fellow RCCS senior Emily Enfield moved to the school as a freshman. Enfield thought sidewalks could be fixed, adding that one bar's windows were busted out from rocks.
Fellow student Bailey Anderson is a junior and has lived her entire life in Reedsport. Of the community and roads, she said the streets' condition look pretty fresh. She didn't see much that needed improving.
"Aren't they all really new?" Anderson said. "They just did them not too long ago."
A bit of background
Nina Johnson and Jeffrey Tashman covered more detail in a report entitled "Urban Renewal in Oregon — History, Case Studies, Policy Issues and Latest Developments." They wrote the report in 2002 for the Portland Development Commission on behalf of the Association of Oregon Redevelopment Agencies.
The flow of money for urban renewal — for example in the case of Reedsport — comes from tax increment financing or TIF.
"Tax revenue generated by the incremental increase in value ('increment') in the renewal area can be used to pay for improvements in the area being renewed," Johnson and Tashman wrote. "Once an urban renewal boundary is defined, the county assessor 'freezes' the assessed value of real property within the urban renewal district." Then as property values increase with the investments or because of appreciation, "the taxes on the increase in the assessed value above the frozen base are used to pay for the improvements...."
Part of this was a shift in how to use land.
The TIF system started in the 1970s.
"When urban renewal was first used in Oregon, the practices mirrored the prevailing redevelopment wisdom of its time," according to a report from the Portland Development Commission from July 2000. The report/presentation was entitled "Opportunity Gateway Education Session on Urban Renewal." "Areas through to be blighted were completely cleared of structures, with the idea that by removing blight and providing readily developable parcels, new development would be induced. In most instances, entire neighborhoods were removed in the name of urban renewal. In some instances, the anticipated development never occurred. Today, urban renewal agencies no longer clear large areas of land. Instead they work within the existing built and social environment to create and encourage redevelopment opportunities for those who desire it."
Essie Cardoso, who's thinking about settling back into Reedsport after she's graduated from college, had more to say about revitalizing Reedsport through public and private tax dollars.
"Yes, new may sound scary in our town but change can be a good thing," Cardoso said. "It takes time to reinvent a town so maybe we should keep it (the district) going for future needs. We want the future to be better than it was today and for future generations to love living in Reedsport."