John Topits Park Norman Ave

A portion of John Topits Park, near the National Guard Armory on Norman Avenue, will be the home of Coos Bay's new library building.

The Urban Renewal Agency, made up of the Coos Bay City Council, voted unanimously to begin the process of extending the Empire Urban Renewal District.

The plan approved by the agency would add two properties to the Empire district, John Topits Park and the armory.

The city wants to add John Topits Park to the district because the Urban Renewal Agency could then fund some of the work to build a new facility for the Coos Bay Library.

Before the major amendment to the plan can be offical, it must be approved by taxing districts that equal 75 percent of the total taxes collected. Coos Bay alone represents close to 50 percent of the district, with other entities including Coos County, county library, county 4-H, Post of Coos Bay, Coos County Airport, Coos Bay School District #9, South Coast ESD and Southwest Oregon Community College.

Elaine Howard, a consultant with the agency, said the city has reached out to the Coos Bay School District and the ESD to support the project. The three combined would top the 75 percent threshold.

In addition to adding property, the major amendment would approve the life of the district from 2031 to 2039 and would increase the amount of debt the district can incur from $15 million to $29 million. The tax rate would not be impacted.

“The Coos Bay School District is not directly impacted by urban renewal,” Howard said. “Both the school district and the education service district are funded by the state, and they are funded on a per-pupil basis.”

The new district as approved Monday includes several specific plans for spending the revenue that comes in. The spending plans include the continuation of the façade program, additional sidewalks in Empire, property acquisition, street improvements, gateway improvements, cleanup at the armory site and improvements to Topits Park to prepare for the library construction.

The district currently brings in just under $2 million annually in tax revenue, with $1.5 million coming from city and the Coos Bay School District taxpayers.

If the amendment is not authorized, the taxing district is scheduled to pay off its debt and be shut down in 2031. Later attempts to start another Urban Renewal District would bring in much less revenue, Howard said.

“It’s beneficial to keep this running,” Councilor Drew Farmer said. “More money would go back to the state and other taxing districts.”

Mayor Joe Benetti said he was in favor of the amendment.

“It’s a great tool for us to help develop businesses and expand properties and make them more useful,” Benetti said. “I think there’s a lot of projects that are available.”

By law, the Urban Renewal Agency cannot make a final decision on the major amendment for 45 days. Howard explained the city must mail letters to the other taxing districts to get 75 percent approval, present the plan to the county, have a hearing in front of the planning commission and bring it back to the Urban Renewal Agency on July 21 for a public hearing a possible approval.

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