Commonwealth Journal

Local News

April 27, 2013

Timing right to revitalize Downtown?

Somerset —

Flip to the first page of the dense 27-page document presented to the Somerset City Council this past week and you’ll see the words there in bold print: “The timing is right.”
That’s the expert opinion of Commonwealth Economics, LLC, at least. The analytical firm out of Lexington put together a detailed study of a proposed plan to use locally generated taxes to retroactively finance significant improvements to downtown Somerset — with the goal of making the center of the city a more active, attractive place to live, work, and play.
“It’s sort of the tail wagging the dog,” said Gib Gosser, executive director of the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation (DSDC), the entity entrusted with ensuring the heart of the community stays healthy. “I was out looking for a solution to the Virginia Cinema, looking for the $2 million we needed for that, and now we’re looking at a $40 million project for the whole downtown just to get the cinema project done. I’d like to see a vibrant downtown area — retail, service, entertainment — and I think that’s all possible with this (plan).”
The idea hinges on a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, which is quickly becoming a viable option in the community development game here in Kentucky. John Farris and Casey Bolton of Commonwealth Economic paid a visit to DSDC in February to discuss the TIF plan and Somerset’s potential with it. They noted that similar TIF projects have been initiated in the Kentucky cities Louisville, Lexington, Dayton, Georgetown, and Versailles — specifically noted the Red Mile redevelopment plan in Lexington and the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
DSDC saw the plan as a real possibility, but more research needed to be done first. Thus, the study by Commonwealth Economics. It’s a “lengthy and expensive process,” as Gosser put it, as the city has spent about $13,000 already and will likely pay another $20,000 for the consultants. Next, the state will need to paid to do their own analysis, another bill of likely between $60-70,000, according to Gosser.

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