by Chris Harris
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler still isn’t showing all the city’s cards. Still, some more details are coming to light on how the proposed tax increment financing (TIF) plan may unfold.
Girdler said that city officials have made a “preliminary decision” on a development plan and that the two key projects that would help Somerset reach the necessary spending threshold are in place.
“Right now, everything’s a-go,” said Girdler.
One of the major projects is the planned $8.5 million energy center on the corner of East Mt. Vernon and College Streets.
The other, Girdler still isn’t ready to make an official announcement about because of the remaining loose ends existing with state government. He did say, however, that it would be “near The Center (for Rural Development).”
One strong possibility is a hotel being added to The Center for Rural Development complex. Speculation has existed about such a project for years, and was brought up again last summer after Somerset voters opted to make the city “wet” with the legal sale of alcohol.
Any such hotel would likely be in walking distance of or adjacent to the Center’s convention facilities, and could include a large, top-flight restaurant to help make the facility more attractive to those outside Pulaski County.
Before the TIF plan becomes feasible, the city would need to make an investment of $20 million in project spending, allowing the city to issue revenue bonds. Combined, Girdler expects the energy center and the second Center-area project to help the city reach that critical point.
“We’ll probably indicate that in the next couple weeks,” said Girdler as to the second project. “We don’t want to get expectations up unless the new development area fits into state criteria. If the state does not agree with us, the new project couldn’t go.”
However, there could be even more on the way. Girdler said that another major project has been requested that would be located in the MedPark West area, near Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital.
Right now, the ball is in the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s court. Somerset is working on submitting the proposed development area that the TIF plan would aim to revitalize to the state for feedback — which, as the mayor said, will likely determine whether or not the entire endeavor moves forward.
The area to receive TIF-funded improvements would include the downtown Somerset area extending south on Monticello Street toward the Center. The area covers about three square miles total, said Girdler, and goes east about as far as City Hall.
Northbound, the project would likely go to Oak Street, and would also encompass Cundiff Square.
“There are two or three other, small but very important projects on Monticello Street,” added Girdler.
If the state gives its stamp of approval, the mayor expects to have a public hearing on the plan involving the Somerset City Council, most likely in September. Girdler expects a time frame of about 30 days before the city council gets to hold a workshop on the plan.
Under a TIF plan, local and state governments would rebate as much as 80 percent of any new tax revenue that results from a development back to its own certain area. This tax money would pay for infrastructure work needed to create the development.
The initial idea arose from efforts to look for ways to fund a renovation of the Virginia Cinema, but it soon became apparent that TIF money could be used to engineer an overall downtown revitalization.
Now, a vision for a large-scale makeover is in place — and Somerset officials are ready to move into the future as soon as they get a green light.
“We think everybody will be extremely pleased with the concept,” said Girdler, “but we want to caution that there’s another step to go through.”