Editorial: Downtown costs should be spread broadly
Tonight the Concord City Council will vote on the final design of a Main Street redesign project whose total cost will top $10 million – but the council’s work will not end with the approval of a design. Questions of cost remain and can’t be answered definitively until the city learns how much, if any, of the cost will be covered by a redevelopment grant.
The council will also have to decide whether to authorize the creation of one or more special tax assessment districts. One would impose a levy on properties whose value will be increased by the improvements, which include making Main Street between each end of Storrs Street two wide travel lanes separated by a 6-foot median that can be used for turning or passing a stopped vehicle. The money raised by the tax assessment district will be used to meet property’s owners share of the cost of the bond issued to fund the city’s share of the redesign.
Deciding how large that district should be won’t be easy.
Should it be limited to properties that immediately abut Main Street, or should it include nearby properties on side streets, since they will also benefit from the investment in downtown? The latter seems fairer, especially if the rate imposed diminishes with distance from Main Street.
The council will also have to decide whether to create a separate business improvement district whose assessments would be used to cover the additional operating and maintenance costs that come with caring for what would become, in the words of Matt Walsh, the city employee who oversees special projects, a 10-acre urban park.
The city spends $102,000 on downtown maintenance and repairs annually, but the new design, with its wider sidewalks, landscaping and other improvements will cost an estimated $284,000 more per year. Councilor Mark Coen asked a key question when the subject came up at Monday’s council meeting: “Its benefit is to the city as a whole, so why wouldn’t we all share in this?”
The answer is, we should.
Everyone will benefit from a beautiful, more vibrant Main Street and revitalized downtown. If downtown Concord, which has struggled during the recession, attracts more shoppers and visitors, its businesses will prosper. In time, the value of downtown properties and the tax revenue they generate will increase, lowering the burden on everyone else. Property values in a city with a thriving downtown are also likely to be higher than if, as has happened in so many places, the city center has died, so all property owners benefit.
Spreading the added cost will take a bit of the financial pressure off businesses that fear they’ll lose customers as a result of a construction process. And having one less bill for tenants to pay may make it that much easier for landlords to fill vacant storefronts.
Covering the additional maintenance and operating costs of Concord’s redesigned downtown would add about 1 percent to the tax rate, which translates into an extra $25 per year for the owner of the average single-family house. That’s not too much to pay for a downtown to be proud of.