Spurred by the planned Northeast State/Downtown Centre project, the Johnson City Development Authority is currently taking on a review of its 5-year-old redevelopment plan.
The Northeast State project, in which the JCDA would purchase the Downtown Centre from Washington County and then lease it to the community college, pointed out to the JCDA that there were some aspects of the plan it needed to revisit, officials said.
One suggested update is adding an “urban renewal” component, said Todd Smith, director of entrepreneurship and redevelopment with the Washington County Economic Development Council.
Smith said much of the reason for adding the urban renewal component is driven by the federal government’s definition of what constitutes urban renewal versus redevelopment. Under the urban renewal designation, the JCDA can use tax-increment financing dollars to do interior rehabilitation on a project, like the $1 million the authority has pledged to help Northeast State prep the Downtown Centre for classes.
“That’s why we’ve added that,” Smith said. “Without the urban renewal part, we can’t spend TIF dollars to do (interior renovations).”
The change could also clear the path for any other projects in a redevelopment district that might need TIF money for interior rehab, though Smith said he doesn’t anticipate any other specific projects in the near future; still, adding the urban renewal designation would give the development authority greater “flexibility” in its choice of TIF projects.
The updated plan would also create the potential to add other redevelopment districts throughout Washington County.
“Those are simply a concept right now,” Smith said. “But we wanted to verbalize that in the plan, to say if a project came up and we thought TIF and a redevelopment district would benefit it, we want that option as a tool.”
The redevelopment plan has existed since 2006, when the JCDA wrote it to identify its redevelopment district and outline how tax-increment financing dollars could be spent, said JCDA Chair Robert White. At that point, the state had passed legislation that allowed for TIF districts, and the JCDA needed a way to lay out its plan for redevelopment.
“The plan basically says, in this district, these are the kind of things we propose we would do. A lot of the plan is very specific to the district with the boundaries that are set up,” White said. “At that time, we never thought we’d be considering a project that needed internal renovations.”
The district’s boundaries incorporate much of downtown Johnson City. Both Johnson City and Washington County approved the plan in its first form and will have to approve it again before the JCDA can spend money to rehab the inside of the Downtown Centre as part of the Northeast State project.
The proposed changes to the plan also identify four focus areas for redevelopment: infrastructure, public venues, commercial development and special events; add a four-year financial plan for implementation, a requirement of state law; remove the third-party RFP process for redeveloping projects; and remove redevelopment service fees that were to be paid to the JCDA.
White said the review is probably one of several the plan will see in its lifetime.
“We felt we wanted to clean it up, make it clearer. It’s a learning process. We’re the first community who even tried to do the district, so we’re living and learning,” White said. “(The review) reminds us as board members of the JCDA, with these new opportunities we have, we need to continue to reevaluate to make sure we are spending taxpayer dollars in a very responsible manner.”