The Mesquite City Council got its first chance to see a proposed strategy to establish a community-wide development plan for downtown Mesquite. The strategy was created at the direction of the City Council, which established downtown redevelopment as a high-priority item during its workshops.
“This is one of several strategy presentations you will see over the next several weeks,” said Cliff Keheley, city manager. “This is staff’s recommendation for how to proceed with different objectives. Nothing is set in stone.”
One of the challenges of redeveloping downtown is to make it a destination where people chose to visit. According to city staff, although many of the buildings are the same in downtown, the amount of people who patronize the area has declined.
“Downtown decline did not happen overnight and neither will revitalization,” said Kim Buttram, assistant manager of economic development. “It will take a huge effort to bring it back to life, and the city cannot do it alone. It has to be relevant to today’s world and in position to stay relevant in the future.”
The city rehabbed the gazebo, performed some aesthetic upgrades to landscaping areas and redid its portion of the main parking lot last year in an effort to show some positive changes in the area. The city also purchased the Heritage Plaza Building.
As part of the proposed redevelopment strategy, a permanent governing body would be created to oversee the downtown area on behalf of the city. The body would be made up of a diverse cross section of community stakeholders.
“A staff manager would be needed for the long term to manage downtown activity and to be a liaison,” Buttram said.
Under the plan, the city would allocate funding in 2018 to hire a downtown manager, with city staff filling the role temporarily in 2017.
An inventory of assets would be taken and the information would be turned over to consultants.
“Different departments will help compile this information. Asset inventory is not just the tangible assets, but also the intangible, so we need to inventory everything from buildings to infrastructure to what types of special events we have in place,” Buttram said.
The consultants would use all of the assets and provide an economic impact report based on various types of development of changes that could be made to each of the assets. A consultant would also be hired to determine the feasibility of each type of development.
Once the studies are complete, the city would use the data gathered to help brand and market downtown to developers and other stakeholders. The total for consultant work and administrative costs is estimated at $78,000.
The strategy also calls for $150,000 to be budgeted in FY2017 to be used for improvement incentives to downtown property owners who make upgrades to their properties. The city would create an application process that would determine if a project was worthy of city participation.
“The owner would be expected to contribute [money] to the project. Each application would filter through the [governing body] and then be presented to council to make sure it meets the needs of downtown,” Buttram said.
Rounding out the budget offers for FY2017, the strategy calls for $250,000 to be allocated to help entice a destination-type business to occupy part of the city-owned Heritage Plaza building. The funds would be used to renovate the entire inside of the building.
“To connect the right business housed in the same building with the convention and visitors’ bureau could be a private-public partnership that could act as a catalyst that gets attention from the market and the public,” Buttram said.
The total budget offerings in FY2017 to implement the strategy, as proposed, would be $478,000. The city staff also anticipates, if the strategy is implemented, to see additional budget offers in 2018.
“This plan put into action is an opportunity to make a historic comeback of a signature place in Mesquite, where generations of residents once gathered to celebrate life in our town. The downtown is part of our past, it’s an image of what we are presently, and can be a turning point for our future,” Buttram said.
Councilman Dennis Tarpley expressed concerns over the impact creating a destination would have on the city’s Town East area, which he called the city’s “cash cow.”
“As Town East retail goes, so goes Mesquite,” he said. “I do not want to do anything that is going to be detrimental to that area.”
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Casper believed the proposed plan would not harm Town East but would create an alternative area that would attract a different clientele to the city.
“I don’t see those as being competitive,” he said.
Councilman Greg Noschese questioned the viability of the strategy. He was worried the city would spend money incentivizing upgrades to buildings early on that may not fit the long-term vision created after all of the consultant work is completed.
“There are theories that say redevelopment will occur organically over time,” he said.
Noschese was also concerned the city would never have to funds to reinvest heavily in downtown as comparable cities have, and wondered if the funds could be better utilized to bolster another area of the city.
“One of those cities is Grand Prairie,” Noschese said. “If you look at Grand Prairie over the last five years and they spent close to $10 million in taxpayer money to do façade improvements, redo a theater, build a farmers market and $1.1 million in sidewalk and landscaping. I don’t see us as a city having the resources to spend $10 million. I don’t see us as a city as being in position to compete with that.”
He said that until the city is ready to commit to densifying the downtown area he didn’t think it was a wise investment to spend money on studies for downtown.
“I’m not sure that this council or this community at this time is ready to commit to densify that area,” he said.
Casper was in favor of spending money to determine the long-term vision for downtown, citing the importance of being able to show a plan for the future.
“I don’t think these conversations happen if we don’t get the ball rolling,” he said.
The City Council will continue to discuss a strategy for downtown development as they work through the budget process for the upcoming year.
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