State level initiatives to support center city revitalization in smaller towns
One of the things that always strikes me about dealing with urban revitalization issues in Washington, DC is that people fail to recognize the comparative advantages that the city has as a city-state with de facto control of residential income taxes (although Congress forbids the city to tax nonresident income), that the city is--these days anyway--relatively wealthy, and because of its wealth, the consequences of injudiciousness aren't as great.
In other words, DC can waste $130 million rebuilding an unnecessary high school--given that it and 3 other nearby high schools are all significantly underenrolled ("D.C. leaders to celebrate new Dunbar High School facility," Washington Post), while school districts like Montgomery County, Maryland beg for additional school construction money from the State of Maryland ("Montgomery unlikely to get school construction funding," Gazette).
Similarly, intra-state politics tends to doom city-focused revitalization projects because it is difficult to get rural interests--and most states have political districting weighed in favor of rural interests--to sign off on "city-focused" programs, failing to recognize that urban economies drive the success of the state economy.
For example, in Maryland, the state historic preservation tax credit program has been stunted because Baltimore City--home to more empty industrial buildings than any other locale--was seen to benefit disproportionately ("Five city projects receive historic tax credits," Baltimore Sun).
So it's good to see examples of state level programs and initiatives that are focused more on results and less on politics.
The New York Times reports, in "Delaware Is Building a Strategy to Lift Some Cities' Economies," about a proposed Delaware state initiative to provide up to a 20% match for redevelopment and new construction projects in designated urban cores.
Not too long ago, the NYT also reported about an interesting tax increment financing program in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that also includes residential income tax as part of the revenue stream ("Tax Program Aims to Reverse Decades-Long Decline in Allentown").
MassInc, a Massachusetts-focused think tank and publisher of CommonWealth Magazine, working for the improvement of the state in multiple dimensions, has created the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, to focus on the 26 midsized but still major cities across the state that anchor regional economies at the scale below Boston.
The GCII has a research and publishing program including a weekly e-letter and a couple months back, at the first annual anniversary luncheon for the program, announced the 2013 Gateway Cities Innovation Awards, honoring exemplary efforts by individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations across the state who are making a difference in terms of sparking revitalization, redevelopment, and business development in those cities where such projects are harder to pull off and are ever so important.
The Massachusetts 2013 Gateway Cities Innovation Award winners are (from a MassInc press release):
Curt Spalding: Mr. Spalding is the Regional Administrator for EPA's Region 1, which spans the six New England states. He has been a valued partner in redevelopment projects in virtually every Gateway City in the Commonwealth. A notable example of his tenacity is the transformation of Chelsea's highly contaminated former Lawrence Metals site, which will become a new 152-room Holiday Inn when complete. The complex project has involved coordination between the EPA, MassDEP, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the City of Chelsea, MassDevelopment, and the site's private developer.
Marc Dohan: Marc Dohan is the Executive Director of the Twin Cities Community Development Corporation. Under Mr. Dohan's leadership, the TCCDC has been a powerful agent for neighborhood stabilization. Most recently, working in Fitchburg's Elm Street neighborhood, the organization has built and rehabbed over 60 units of housing. Acquiring properties that were either in foreclosure or receivership and working with residents to create neighborhood assets and increase home ownership, Mr. Dohan and TCCDC have played a pivotal role transforming a vulnerable neighborhood.
O'Connell Companies: Holyoke-based O'Connell Companies is renowned for their work on large and technically complex projects. As the first private developer to invest in WPI's Gateway Park, they have joined a small class of firms with the vision and risk tolerance to execute on truly transformative projects. The O'Connell Companies addition of 92,000 square feet of commercial space complements public and institutional investments in the area. Together, these coordinated projects are changing a once-blighted area near Lincoln Square into a growing mixed-use district.
The Merrimack Valley Sandbox: The mission of the Sandbox is to boost the economic and social well-being of greater Lowell and Lawrence by advancing entrepreneurship and innovation. The Sandbox fosters entrepreneurship among diverse populations of residents and workers in the Merrimack Valley including high school and college students, adults, and non-English speakers. The Sandbox runs dozens of programs including workshops, pitch contests, entrepreneur meetups, themed mixers, and twice annual accelerator programs. Through these programs, the Sandbox leverages hundreds of volunteers from the business, non profit, government, and educational communities to serve as mentors, teachers, sponsors, and judges.
Mary Waldron: As the Executive Director of Brockton 21st Century Corporation, Ms. Waldron played a pivotal role facilitating two major downtown redevelopment projects: the transformation of the Knight building into the Station Lofts by Capstone Communities and the rebuilding of the Enterprise Block by Trinity Financial. Both projects are within walking distance of the Brockton commuter rail station. Capstone's adaptive reuse of an old industrial building (where the catcher's mitt was invented) was Brockton's first use of the historic tax credit.
Armando Feliciano and Jay Minkarah: Armando Feliciano is a longtime Springfield community leader and Chairman of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority. After the 2011 tornado destroyed Mr. Feliciano's home, he strove not only to rebuild his own property, but to also foster a collaborative partnership between the SRA and DevelopSpringfield, a newly formed public-private economic development organization. As the first CEO of DevelopSpringfield, Jay Minkarah has devoted enormous energy to this joint effort. The opportunity their collaboration has produced is embodied in the Rebuild Springfield Plan - an ambitious, forward-thinking blueprint for the city's future that the SRA and DevelopSpringfield are now working together to implement.