Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously authorized the downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Committee to spend $20,000 to design a so-called "pocket park" straddling the foot of Main Street, which would be built in conjunction with the reconstruction of the Main Street Bridge.
The project was among three presented to the council by Planning Director Shanna Saunders on behalf of the advisory committee. On the east side of Main Street, a covered trellis would highlight the park while there would be granite slab seating, shrubbery and ornamental shade trees on both sides of the street. The traffic islands in the approaches to the bridge would also be landscaped. The estimated cost of constructing the park fell between $150,000 and $200,000
The committee also proposed a similar park at the junction of Main Street and Pleasant Street, which would include a water feature in the space fronting Main Street and benches and tables in the passageway extending alongside the Downtown Deli to the parking lot. The area would be landscaped with shrubbery and shade trees. The park was estimated to cost $12,000 to design and between $90,000 and $120,000 to construct.
Finally, in response to a directive from the council, the committee considered adding an open or glassed stairway to the parking garage. After discovering the project would cost upwards of $200,000, the committee suggested that safety could be enhanced by adding 19 security cameras, with direct video feeds to the Police Department, at a cost of $18,000. At the same time, in addition to patrolling the garage three times on each shift the police could deploy officers at random during the morning and evening rush hours.
Tax increment financing allows municipalities to define TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues that accrue from the increase in assessed value generated by the construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to either provide funds or service borrowings for public improvements within it. Finance Director Donna Woodaman reported the fund has annual income of approximately $130,000 and a current balance of $370,000.
Saunders said that the committee was seeking funding for all three projects, but stressed that since work on the Main Street Bridge is scheduled to begin in April, highest priority should be assigned to the the park at the foot of Main Street.
Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2) suggested borrowing sufficient funds to undertake all three projects and servicing the debt with the annual income from the TIF district. City Manager Scott Myers said that borrowing would make optimal use of limited funds, but advised authorizing money for design and engineering before considering the options for financing construction. Councilors Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Brenda Baer (Ward 4) both favored paying for the projects with cash.
Noting that there are many parks in the city, Hamel asked Kevin Dunleavy. director of parks and recreation, whose department maintains them, if his staff could manage additional responsibilities. Dunleavy said that the work would be done, but added that these parks would be ideal candidates for the Adopt-A-Spot program.
The presentation followed the advisory committee's earlier request to the council for $50,000 to design the two parks as well as public restrooms. With only sketches of the projects, the council balked at the request and in particular questioned the priority given to constructing public restrooms. Saunders told the council the committee has agreed to defer further discussion of the restrooms,
The boundaries of the downtown TIF district enclose an area roughly ringed by Fair Street, New Salem Street, Church Street, Union Avenue and Court Street and divided by Main Street, running from Pine Street in the south to Oak Street in the north. The district included 287 properties spread over 145 acres, which together represented a total assessed value of more than $70-million when the district was established in 2004.