The Newport City Planning Commission Monday night agreed that it’s a good idea for the city council to begin thinking about revitalizing the downtown so that someday Newport will have a growing and thriving city center with attractive stores, inviting pedestrian walkways, convenient parking, great restaurants, interesting retail stores, along with the look and the feel of a vibrant and prosperous coastal city – and to do it using an urban renewal development strategy.
The city recently closed out a northern urban renewal area that gave birth to the new City Hall, the complete make-over of the Nye Beach area, construction of the VAC and the PAC and many tourist amenities in the area. So, by the calculations of Community Development Director Derrick Tokos, there’s room for the urban renewal engine to crank back up – perhaps running just south of the downtown to as far north as 25th Street or so.
Tokos told the planning commission that urban renewal takes a great deal of economic analysis, planning and financial investigating. That’s because there has to be enough blighted areas involved to be rehabilitated yet also enough “not-so-blighted areas” that continue to rise in property values which produce additional tax dollars to help float loans and attract grants to make improvements to streets, utilities, store fronts, and tasteful urban streetscapes. Even new construction, like making Highway 101 one-way through the downtown and covert SW 9th to be the other half, forming a couplet through the downtown area. There would be more retail frontage along an interstate, with greater opportunities for convenient parking.
Planning commissioner added a touch of what they’d like to see and that is not ignoring the Highway 20 corridor from Highway 101 to the east, and to investigate possible inclusion of some blighted areas of the Agate Beach area.
Again, urban renewal is very much like priming the pump. The pay off is in creating a more successful city, which of course, produces more revenues for the betterment of the whole town.
However, as some of these urban renewal revenues are funneled back into projects outlined in the urban renewal plan, Newport and other taxing districts like the school district, the port, library district and some others will take a minor hit to their projected tax revenue income. It would be up to the city to convince them that although they’d be giving up some revenue in the short run, they would be reaping a big return on their “investment” when the urban renewal district is fully built out. The city’s argument will be that a more powerful economic engine in the downtown corridor, maybe even farther north, would produce greater tax revenues for all the taxing entities in the long run.
With the planning commission’s blessing, Tokos will now take the concept to the city council in hopes of getting their blessing as well. But the first step, says Tokos, is to make sure there is enough potential to make an urban renewal district feasible. He says he has enough revenue in his budget to hire a very well respected economics consulting firm that deals with such issues all across Oregon as well as across the country; EcoNorthwest.
Should the council give Tokos the green light to engage EcoNorthwest it would take a number of months and sharp pencils to give the city a sober assessment of whether urban renewal will work as a major strategy for re-invigorating Newport’s main economic corridor. EcoNorthwest’s findings should give the city keen insight into what specific improvements along the Highway 101 and Highway 20 corridors would make the most sense and give the greatest return on investment.