By Sue Moore
Over 40 people packed the Rise-N-Dine restaurant last month to hear the findings of McKenna Associates, the Northville based firm hired by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to explore the possibilities of a facelift on Main and Prairie Streets in Vicksburg.
The audience consisted of business owners, community volunteers, Vicksburg Foundation members, village officials, and members of the DDA.
John Jackson of McKenna said his firm set out to determine what the character of Vicksburg is, the challenges it faces, and the process for effecting change, saying his conclusions do not represent a one-stop deal for the community.
He discussed parking needs, façade improvements, streetscapes, pedestrian amenities, retail analysis, and the possibility of one-way traffic on South Main Street.
His drawings of how the downtown might look with hardscapes and softscape enhancements focused on short-term improvements for the alley between Jaspare’s and Aaron’s Music, store front remodeling, and sidewalk upgrades.
He showed slides of seating and landscape details that could change the look without a lot of added expense for the DDA or store owners. He presented long-term recommendations for North Main Street development for the vacant property, should it ever come up for sale, as mixed use residential and commercial.
Carmen Sweezy, owner of a store at 103 S. Main, expressed concern about who would pay for all this new development.
“I don’t understand how you can tell private landowners to build like your drawings show,” she said.
Developers could buy up homes and make improvements, such as this, thus increasing the value of the property and their return on investment, Jackson said, noting that the DDA can also pay for incremental infrastructure through public and private partnerships
The DDA has some façade grant/loan money available for the front and back of buildings, Jackson said, and it has started a paint program for store owners.
Before any of these programs get momentum, the increase in the boundaries of the DDA to be included in the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district need to be expanded, which will add more base dollars to the DDA for its activities, he said. It’s important to look at how the village is managing the current parking, too, he added.
These are the most expensive pieces of real estate and need to turn over often enough to generate more sales for store owners. The one-way parking idea drew some opposition, but people were assured that no decision has yet been made.
George Gembis, a 40 year resident of the village, challenged residents to do their shopping here, but he said the village needs more signage and other amenities to keep people from going outside to buy things.
The next step in the design development will be receiving the final report from McKenna on Sept. 26. Then a development team meeting will take place on Sept. 30 to review project needs and comments the citizens submitted.
The DDA is currently meeting with grant-awarding agencies to identify funding and partnership opportunities. Once funding sources are determined, final site plans, drawings and construction quotes will be developed for the selected projects. Final grant applications will then be submitted upon approval by the DDA board before construction begins, according to Kathleen Hoyle, DDA director.
The next step for the DDA and the TIF plan is to have a public hearing on October 6 at which time the taxing jurisdictions can present their comments on the amended DDA/ TIF plan, which will then be finalized in December after 60 days for taxing jurisdiction review, prior to when the township sends out its 2015 tax statements.
“It’s a very tight time-line,” Hoyle said, “but I am confident projects can get underway in late fall or early spring.”