Let me pose a hypothetical to you. Let’s say you were in charge of revitalizing a languishing downtown area but you didn’t have the money to develop the properties yourself. Would you let property owners renovate their properties so that they could attract new tenants? Or would you block their renovations because you didn’t think the renovations were consistent with your “vision” of the new downtown?
Geneo DeSpain, owner of 616-620 Felix St., said he was denied an approval to modify and update his buildings’ existing facades so he could accommodate businesses that have expressed interest in the property. It’s the “red tape” and multitude of guidelines that makes it difficult for small businesses to grow Downtown, he said.
The St. Joseph Downtown Partnership, however, says while it encourages business development, those guidelines are put in place to keep businesses in line with the city’s vision of Downtown.
Like most acts of civic development these days, St. Joseph has a “plan.” In late 2001 the city instituted the “Downtown Precise Plan,” a document which is chock-full of contemporary urban development conventional wisdom — including the notion that the city should be in the business of trying to “guide future private sector actions.”
“It used to be that anything goes Downtown. Then we got to the point that we realized in order to make positive changes Downtown and to bring back these historic buildings, there needed to be these regulations in place,” [Rhabecca Boerkircher, executive director of the St. Joseph Downtown Partnership,] said.
Well, it looks like St. Joseph might just “guide” one of its current property owners right out of town. Says DeSpain, “My fight is done. I’m not going to get any more white hair trying to get these people to understand why I want to be Downtown… It’s not like there’s people in line waiting to get their buildings done Downtown.”
“Development.” Cities keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what they think it means.