RDC brainstorming

Kendallville Redevelopment Commission members take part in a brainstorming session Thursday morning. Pictured from left at the table are Keith Ballard, Brent Durbin, Loren Allen and Patrick Hess. Standing is commission president Kristen Johnson.

KENDALLVILLE — What should Kendallville do with its roughly half-million dollars in tax increment financing funds each year?

That was the main question before commission members Thursday as they gathered for a two-hour brainstorming session.

With its slate of major projects recently completed — the Fairview Boulevard upgrade and downtown streetscape are now out of the way — the board has a lot of cash and not a lot of pending needs.

In 2020, the city collected $491,378.48 in total TIF funds from the city’s Downtown and Eastside districts.

TIF money is captured from increases in property values, with taxes on that increase, the “increment,” being diverted to a separate fund as opposed to flowing directly to local governments as they normally would.

The captured funds are controlled by the redevelopment commission and can be used for development projects within the city’s approved allocation areas.

In 2020, Kendallville connected and expanded its TIF districts to include basically all properties along Main Street from Drake Road to U.S. 6 as well as the entire U.S. 6 corridor stretching the entirety of the city limits east to west.

Right now, outside of its facade grant program and a few distributions toward special projects like the McCray site solar field and a planned pocket park across from City Hall, the redevelopment commission has no other pending projects or financial obligations.

Thursday’s brainstorming session was to discuss next steps and possible new avenues for use of TIF funds.

Board members Kristen Johnson, Patrick Hesss, Loren Allen, Keith Ballard and Brent Durbin — member Logan Conley couldn’t make the meeting — discussed what their vision for the downtown and U.S. 6 corridor looks like in the future.

The answers they gave are one city leaders, business owners and residents have been saying for years — things like restaurants, niche retail stores and entertainment options for youth especially.

But the follow up question was how might they use their sizable bank account to help accomplish those goals?

Johnson focused the conversation on two main ideas. How does the commission encourage development and how does the group fight blight?

New ideas discussed included:

• Supporting interior renovations, maybe limited to structural improvements

• Raising the facade grant match, either dollar amounts or the percentage, which are currently capped at a 50/50 match up to $15,000

• Actively seeking out and try to solicit new businesses to locate in the city

• Possibly acquiring property to renovate or redevelopment

• Amend the facade grant program to encourage owners to meet minimum design guidelines

• Offer incentive packages for new businesses

• Consider helping fund a full-time Main Street administrator who can pursue grants and manage day-to-day efforts in downtown revitalization

• Repave public parking lots and/or improve lighting behind downtown businesses

• Install security cameras

• Update billboards and support increased marketing of the city

Some ideas drew conflicting opinions from members, such as the topic of grants for interior renovations. While Hess pitched the city getting involved inside buildings, Durbin said he felt that interior renovations primarily benefit only the business owner as opposed to exterior improvements benefit the wider block.

That being said, Durbin said an idea like a low-interest loan or no-interest loan for interior work as a way to help business owners might be an option.

That idea, however, could also create pushback from banks or the state if Kendallville tries to get into the lending business, Mayor Suzanne Handshoe noted as she joined the meeting later in the afternoon.

As of now, the city doesn’t have a new “big” project planned, although board members and the mayor discussed the possibility of trying to arrange for a larger-scale facade or renovation project. For example, work with building owners to do a project that might improve an entire block.

Doing so could potentially serve as a demonstration or “showpiece” to illustrate to the community the type of dramatic improvement that is possible, which could build new momentum and support for future programs.

Group members also talked about the possibility of taking more field trips to other communities to talk with their Main Street organizations and tour improvements to talk about what they’ve done or are currently doing as another source of ideas.

After two hours, the group wrapped up. Johnson said she would round up ideas and the RDC might meet again before its next regularly scheduled meeting on July 14 to work on prioritizing some ideas and seeing if there are some easy ones.

“Some of this might be low-hanging fruit we can knock off,” Handshoe said.

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