Downtown Vitalization and CIVI

You’ll be hearing a lot in the coming months about Downtown “Vitalization” and the Community Improvement Venture Initiative (CIVI). Everyone wants a vibrant downtown but how can we make it happen and can we afford it? The Downtown Master Plan draft was presented to the public on November 18, 2015. It proposes a beautiful downtown with:

  • Wide pedestrian walkways
  • Limited cars but better access for bikes
  • Sidewalk, cafés, and coffee shops
  • Upscale shopping
  • Expanded Farmer’s Market
  • Higher density using vacant properties
  • Way finding signage coordinated with park benches and lighting

However, there is no roadmap of how this vision can be realized. The Planning Department says that development approval will be easier with this plan in place.

Some involved in Downtown Vitalization believe that the problem is the difficulty of getting a loan if a prospective merchant has little collateral. The consultants haven’t provided their final report and the CTA has yet to determine an official position on this matter. The area is defined as south of Covert Street and between Division Street and Spring Street. The Town is calling this project the Community Improvement Venture Initiative (CIVI). Here is a brief description of what is proposed and we would like to solicit your input:

  • The Town would need to obtain significant cash (probably from a debenture by the town). Consultants are suggesting $10.5M
  • An independent board will be established to review proposals and provide money to new businesses or to existing owners to improve their properties
  • Others will see the improvement and improve their property on their own
    Consultants estimate that the return on investment will be three dollars for every dollar spent

There are many pitfalls to this proposal:

  • This is a 20-year plan so most current retirees won’t see the benefits
    Money may be lost on failed new businesses
  • It is unfair to merchants north of Covert Street or east of Division Street
  • The return on investment of 3 to 1 is an estimate that may not be achieved
  • There is a lack of oversight by Council or anyone else as the Review Board will act independently of Council