Salted with Sharks

POV: A Business Owner Weighs in on the Proposed Downtown Development Authority in Frankfort

In Gov't Watch, Infrastructure and Planning, On and off the Apron on January 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

Dale Evans, co-owner of the Bayview Grille at 727 Main Street, Frankfort, took time to express his views on the proposed DDA. For more on the DDA, see Colin Merry’s coverage in the Record-Patriot and the Alert‘s coverage of the first meeting. Q&A questions by Emily Votruba.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to Alert readers concerning the proposed Frankfort Downtown Development Authority. I hope the following answers provide them with an idea as to why I have become involved and gives them a reason to look into this important issue.

You got involved in this process by submitting some questions to Josh Mills, and getting some answers, and preparing this material for distribution at the first public meeting, on January 8. How are you feeling about the public process on this proposed DDA?

Concerning the process, I would suggest that the City has made great strides to address the concerns of myself and others who have asked relevant questions. Mr. Steve Christian compiled questions submitted from me and others, to Mr. Josh Mills, City Superintendent. Mr. Mills, in a very short turnaround time, responded to our questions and cleared up many of them. My only concern right now is, why hold these meeting in January and not May or June, when more business owners might be back in Frankfort and able to digest the information and ask relevant questions they may have? We have been told it is because in the summer we are all very busy, but I don’t believe business owners are ever too busy to address a business issue that may have a profound impact on their bottom line. If the City wants transparency in its process, it should give all of the affected business owners and operators the opportunity to have input concerning this issue, if they desire. What is the hurry?

As far as you can tell, who stands to gain the most from this DDA, if it’s approved?

I believe all the residents and business owners from Frankfort could possibly benefit from a DDA. I have worked closely with DDAs and believe they can have a positive impact on communities suffering economic downturn and blight. I’m not sure Frankfort falls within that category. Mr. Mills has indicated there is a waiting list for businesses looking to move into store fronts in Frankfort. It appears there is a need for development in the east end of the proposed DDA area, especially on the waterfront, but from all indications, that isn’t what this is all about. At the meeting on January 22, Mr. Mills and Bruce Ogilvie spoke to the issue of declining revenues and assessments due to the Headlee Amendment. They indicated this was a way to circumvent the restrictions of Headlee and provide needed revenues to do a variety of things. The City provided a list of City goals, but later told us this was not the agenda of the DDA and had been handed out erroneously.

What are some other means by which Frankfort could attract new business to the city?

Is bringing new business to Frankfort a goal? I didn’t hear a lengthy discussion concerning business attraction. I heard discussion concerning street striping, street lighting, sidewalk improvement, signage and street paving…all things being done now. I didn’t hear a discussion of outreach to the Pure Michigan Campaign, begun by Governor Granholm, that has been so successful or any other ideas about bringing new business to Frankfort. I heard about a budgetary maneuver to circumvent the Headlee Amendment and capture funds to maintain the streets and sidewalks in the City. While the idea that maintaining Frankfort and keeping it beautiful and hoping to attract people to come and share our wonderful people and environment is a way to attract new people and small business, it is not necessary to develop a new layer of government to attract new business. In a recent letter to the Record-Eagle, Mr. Joe Muir made a strong argument that private business is the best way to attract new business and not a new layer of government. Investment in quality schools, art centers, beaches and wonderful people are some of the reasons I decided to invest here. A DDA didn’t create those things and it didn’t take a new layer of government and new tax revenues to do it.

Do you have a sense of the range of opinions, positive and negative, on this proposal? Do you think these viewpoints have been heard?

I am unaware of the range of opinion on this issue presently. Due to these meetings being held in the middle of winter, instead of May or June, there is no way to gauge public sentiments. Mr. Steve Christian, who chairs the Frankfort-Elberta Chamber of Commerce, indicates that the business community is supportive. I’m not as sure and I’m not sure they would be if they had all the information needed to make this decision. This DDA, composed of appointees, not individuals who must stand for election and answer to voters, has the power to levy up to 2 mills of taxes EVERY YEAR, as long as they are in existence. Additionally they may levy special assessments EVERY YEAR. They may also sell bonds. That is a lot of taxing power in a group of appointed people’s hands. There are discussions going on to limit this ability, by holding a vote, so it must be approved by the business owners and operators within the DDA, but the state requirements of holding one hearing after adopting the resolution in support of the DDA has been met. The City is only obligated to hold a vote and establish the DDA, at this point. They are no longer required to get public input. On or after March 8, 2013, the city can establish a DDA, with or without more input from the business community. Government can merely meet its minimum requirements or it can work to keep their citizenry informed and involved.

Is there any consensus in the business community in Frankfort, do you think, in terms of tactics, visions for the future?

My sense is that the business owners and the residents of Frankfort want to see the City continue to succeed and grow at a reasonable rate. I was stunned that when I first went to speak with Mr. Steve Christian about the DDA proposal, 4 days before the first hearing, he was unaware of all the issues regarding this important proposal. Until Mr. Christian compiled mine and other business owner’s questions concerning the creation of the DDA, no one had been contacted by the city to discuss or get business owners’ input. Mr. Christian presides over the Frankfort–Elberta Chamber of Commerce and no one had come to this important business organization and made them aware of this upcoming hearing and what a DDA encompasses. A chance to build a consensus with the business community surrounding this issue was missed.

  1. ABSOLUTELY Excellent! I’m forwarding to several folks…

  2. First, let me start out by stating that every business owner within the propsed DDA corridor was sent a letter from the City of Frankfort that included a letter from the City Superintendent, proposed DDA boundary, propsed DDA ordinance and hearing notice. The public hearing notice was also published in the Record Patriot twice. All of these notices were performed approximately 20 days before the hearing. The whole purpose of the hearing and succeeding meetings is to gain consensus from the business community, thus any opportunity to gain consensus was not and is NOT MISSED. The City can not finalize the creation of a DDA until at least 60 days after the first hearing. In regards to conducting this process in the winter versus the summer; it is a situation that municipal government faces with numerous issues. It would be wonderful to conduct all critical business during the summer months but that is just not feasible.

    The process so far has resulted in a wonderful and mature dialogue between the City and the business community. These positive discussions will result in what is best for the community.

    Establishment of a DDA is a positive opportunity for the community as it creates an enhanced means to facilitate economic and social develoment. There is no doubt that the primary purpose of creating the DDA Act 197 of 1975 was to halt property value deterioration and increase property tax valuation. Minimize and rennovate downtowns that have blight. Obviously Frankfort really does not fall into that category, however creation of a DDA does help promote economic growth and that is exactly the goal of the City of Frankfort. Economic development is necessary for job creation and revitalization in Michigan. Economic development comes through public and private investments with economic development tools such as a DDA often can help seal a deal.

    The primary revenue tool for the DDA is generated through tax increment financing (TIF). A TIF is beneficial on a multi-jurisdictional level and can be an importnat tool for attracting people and jobs to the City of Frankfort. There is far more advantages to a TIF than striping and beauitification as they can create tremendous economic development including business and investment recruitment, marketing, facade improvement, retail incubators, investuing in infrastructure and other tools that fill storefronts and develop new opportunities that create jobs and increase traffic. Frankfort has a great quality of life and many people fall in love with the community. A DDA can create added incentives that will result in economic and socoal growth.

    Other benefits of a DDA include an enhanced opportunity for the business community to guide and direct investment and work in unison with the City of Frankffort to achieve an overal improvement to the social and economic well-being of the community. The business community has a greater say and role!! Creation of a DDA makes great business sense as other benefits could include networking opportunities, creation of a web-based Asset Based Community Development Inventory (ABCD), Business & Marketing Guide, Job postings, tennant space or property sale information, problem resolution through collaboration, Group advertising opportunities and special event marketing and possibly low-intersest loans and/or matching grants. Yes, the City of Frankfort wants to foster new development and job growth that is in line with the Master Plan.

    In regards to the legislation allowing a 2 mill levy; it is not the goal of the City to see this occur unless there was clear and concise benefit to all and the majority of the business community in support. We are addressing ordinance laguage to place greater assurances to minimize a DDA and City Council from imposing an increase levy without support of all those impacted. Language being reviewed associated with a tax levy will evolve around a public hearing scheduled, notification distributed to all parties, proxy vote, DDA approval and City Council approval. The City can not have a referendum because it is district specific not registered voter specific.

    Frankfort has endured many wonderful public and private investments that have enhanced our quality of life. Yes, these have all been performed without a DDA. The Oliver Art Center is a public and non-profit collaboration that was made possible through pereserverance and compassionate contributors. The City of Frankfort has performed over $7 million in public upgrades over the past decade that have enhanced the quality of life and played into the overal attraction of new business owners and new investment. This investment has been performed without an increase in taxes. Will proactive and dedicated efforts made by the City of Frankfort continue with a DDA? Yes!!

    A DDA is a tool. Is a DDA necessary for us to exceed in the New Economy? Probably not but it is a tool that will provide many new opportunities that will enhance the community far better than not having a DDA in place. The DDA (Business Community) is able to determine utilization of funds generated through TIF or other means through concurrance and collaboration with the City Council. The City of Frankfort needs help from the business community to foster economic development in order to create a healthier and more thriving community. A DDA actually creates less beauracracy.

    Many people contact the City of Frankfort in reagrds to availability of space to lease in downtown Frankfort. We have three un-occuped buildings on Main Street as of right now. Those facilities are located at 523 Main Street, 529 Main Street and 801 Main Street. The owners of 529 Main Street have no desire to lease or sell. There is a tremendous amount of space available throughout the proposed corridor that can be available for new opportunities. A DDA can help and it certainly won’t hurt.

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