Cumberland Times-News

January 12, 2013

City, DDC move closer on future of downtown

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Cumberland City Councilman David Kauffman addressed the Downtown Development Commission at its regular meeting Thursday to encourage goodwill between the DDC, the Economic Development Commission and the city on restoring the city’s vibrancy.

In prepared remarks, Kauffman said, “It is important to the mayor and city council that you know how valued the DDC’s involvement is to our city. We must work collectively to our common goal of to seek a return of prosperity to the city.”

Since the city’s Economic Development Commission released the Economic Development Strategic Plan in 2010, a growing concern had emerged that the suggestions of the DDC were not seriously considered by the city.

The DDC had felt, in addition to over-emphasizing office space rental, the plan did not seriously consider issues important to them such as retail recruitment, a lack of parking and Upper Story Residential Development.

Kauffman spoke to the DDC to reconcile those feelings by addressing the concerns.

“I think it is an issue of goal alignment and a lack of communication,” said DDC member Dave Romero. “There was no dialogue and we all need to be on the same page.”

“What happens is every day (downtown) empties out around 5 p.m. and the lights go out,” said Romero.

DDC members feel that getting people to live downtown to build up the area is an important part of the equation.

The city and it’s economic development branch felt the emphasis should be on increasing foot traffic through a focus on regional jobs, post- secondary education and population growth.

“Don’t think that the DDC’s issues were not considered at the meetings. They were absolutely factored in,” said Kauffman.

“We have to decide what we are going to have our two staff members in economic development work on, on a daily basis,” Kauffman added.

The DDC has felt strongly about drawing people to live downtown through a focus on USRD.

“Some people who don’t want the maintenence of home anymore may want to come downtown,” said DDC member Lee Schwartz.

Romero said, “There is a demographic that is moving in that direction that we need to capture for downtown. We need to have incentives for that, too.”

Kauffman reminded the group of the realities of the plans.

“Just because you have it in the plan doesn’t mean it will be a success. We have to increase foot traffic. To appeal to a business to look at Cumberland as an option, it must be profitable for them,” said Kauffman.

DDC members also want to open discussions on having special tax credits for new developers.

“City Administrator Jeff Rhodes was reviewing the idea,” said Kauffman.

Kauffman wanted to be sure the DDC is backed on any measures it feels important.

“I will support 100 percent any initiative the DDC decides to take on as priority,” he said.

Downtown manager and DDC member Ed Mullaney expressed delight on seeing some of the latest success stories in downtown.

“When I walk around, it’s great to see the lights of CBIZ burning at night and having 26 people now in Windsor Hall is fantastic,” said Mullaney.

He was speaking of the recent relocation of the Area Health Education Center and its staff to the former Windsor Hall building.

DDC Chairwoman Sandy Saville expressed concern over transparency with economic development and its meetings.

“As an attorney, I just feel there is too much secrecy. That causes one hand to not know what the other is doing,” Saville said.

Mullaney, Kauffman and others defended some level of privacy for potential clients due to an unfair advantage gained by competitors and others from the publicity.

The groups also felt it unfair that someone who wants to plan a project has to hear about it on the street or in the press before they have started.

The issue of privacy also came to light when Downtown Co-Manager Jennifer Light was not allowed to attend a recent economic development meeting.

Kauffman pointed out that discussions were going on how best to include downtown managers in the loop when possible.

“We have no mechanism in place for confidentiality. Controls have to be in place. I believe that including the mall managers into the plans in the future will be successful in the end,” said Kauffman.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.