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A new hospital being built at the Ochoco Lumber site, shown here, may influence the City to choose an urban renewal district in the nearby Willowdale Drive area.
In January, about 35 local leaders attended an informational session on urban renewal districts to determine if the program could work in Prineville.
They apparently feel it could as the City of Prineville staff has decided to move forward with a feasibility study that will examine the possibility more closely.
“So right now, what I’m doing is putting together an RFQ — request for qualifications — that we can put out to solicit proposals from contractors [who are experts in urban renewal districts],” said City Planning Director Scott Edelman.
Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester pointed out they are budgeting $30,000 for the study for the upcoming fiscal year.
“That’s the direction that we feel the (City) Council wants us to go,” he said.
Forrester went on to say that the recent decision to build a new hospital on the Ochoco Lumber site has spurred development interest, which lends more credence to the pursuit of an urban renewal district.
“The City has already been approached by ancillary businesses and development opportunities to complement the hospital build-out,” he said. “So, that strengthens our logic and our reasoning behind taking the next step into the feasibility study.”
The urban renewal district program is administered by the State of Oregon. It allows a municipality to choose a portion of the community in need of upgrades and freezes the property taxes base in that area for a set number of years and contribute future tax growth to an urban renewal account.
For example, if a city was earning $100 million in tax revenue in 2013, and increased to $105 million in 2014, they would allocate that $5 million of increased revenue to an urban renewal account. The rest would go to the usual taxing districts. If the tax income grew to $110 million in 2015, the city would allocate $10 million to the account.
The urban renewal account is utilized for capital purchases that enhance the aesthetics and infrastructure of the area in question. The City of Redmond and City of Madras have both utilized the program and benefitted from the additional revenue it provided them.
In Redmond, the program helped them fund a substantial upgrade to their downtown area, including more aesthetically pleasing walkways, the addition of a plaza and fountain, and other decorative additions. Similarly, Madras has used the program to improve storefronts, clean-up a former gas station and vacant lot, beautify the north ‘Y’ and more.
In Prineville, the City has already begun looking for a consultant to conduct the study, Edelman said. They hope the process will provide them more in-depth information regarding what they do and where they can do it.
“There are certain laws around when you do urban renewal districts, the criteria you have to have for those areas, so that will be one thing it looks at,” he explained. “It looks to justify that areas meet the criteria.”
The study would also determine how much money the City could expect to generate from an urban renewal district and how that will affect the local taxing districts who will have to defer revenue.
For the informational meeting in January, the City identified three locations that seemed to best fit the criteria for an urban renewal district. The criteria include undeveloped or underdeveloped property, or property that lacks adequate water/sewer or street infrastructure.
City staff determined that the downtown core fits the requirements as does the Willowdale Drive area in Southeast Prineville, and the Crestview area south of Meadow Lakes Golf Course.
Edelman said the study will either select one of those locations as the best option, or possibly identify another portion of the community that fits better.
City staff members hope to move relatively quickly with the feasibility study. Edelman hopes to start the process no later than August and conclude it by the end of the calendar year. He further explained that timing becomes important depending on what area they choose.
As an example, Edelman noted that the property value of the Willowdale area will likely increase substantially once the new hospital is built on the nearby Ochoco Lumber site. If they establish an urban renewal district before the hospital is completed, they can freeze the tax base at a much lower rate, and apply the additional revenue brought on by the facility directly to the urban renewal account. If they don’t establish a district until after the hospital boosts property taxes, they would miss out on a large amount of development money.
During the ongoing process, Edelman said the City will provide opportunities for the public to ask questions or offer their concerns and suggestions.
Depending on what the feasibility study finds, the City could proceed with an urban renewal plan, which goes into greater detail regarding what types of development they would consider for the chosen district.
Whether the City will continue beyond the study remains to be seen, but they are encouraged enough with the idea to see if it has legs.
“I still think it (the urban renewal district option) is a tool in the toolbox,” Forrester said. “I think the feasibility study will give us an indication on what would be possible economically.”