Taking aim at blight
Questions and comments have emerged along side of work done in downtown Woodburn of late: queries about what an Urban Renewal Agency does along with comments its tangible results.
Woodburn City Administrator Scott Derickson broached the topic briefly in his March 11 report to Woodburn City Council, while City Councilor Lisa Ellsworth furthered the discussion in her comments at the end of that day's council meeting.
In a nutshell, Woodburn's URA was established in 2001. In keeping with other such URAs around the state, its objective is to facilitate infrastructure improvements in areas that have become run down over the years. In general, a bit of public funding is intended to attract and generate private investment and the mix serves to spruce up the district, making it more appealing, drawing more traffic and usage and, consequently, raising property values.
Public improvements under the URA umbrella include streets, sidewalks, utilities and public spaces, such as Woodburn's First Street Plaza. Grants elicit private incentives for businesses and residents.
"I've been getting a lot of questions about Urban Renewal and the work that we are doing downtown," Derickson said. "And part of my explanation is that Urban Renewal is intended to generate additional capital investment. The URA alone cannot improve downtown without partnering with private dollars that come in and supplement the activity we have."
How is it working?
"This current fiscal year the URA has, through its DARS (Downtown Advisory Review Subcommittee) program, loaned out $151,820; It's been matched with $343,264 of private investment; leveraged that's $495,000 to help improve downtown," Derickson noted. "That's a pretty good rate of return."
Ellsworth, who sits on the DARS committee, noted that much of the URA funds in previous projects downtown have been structural and vital interior work, while more recent ones are manifesting themselves in beautifying capacities.
"When we first started the program, almost all of the funding seemed to go to HVAC and infrastructure because the buildings downtown were in such poor condition," Ellsworth said. "We've done this for several years now, and now people are coming and we're seeing (improvements in) the facades, we're seeing the paint – we're seeing the results. It's really nice to walk downtown and see those grants being leveraged with other dollars.
"A half a million dollars is nothing to sneeze out of (the URA grants)," she added.
Derickson emphasized that is this fiscal year alone.
Woodburn's Urban Renewal Grant & Loan Program is designed with a 3-to-1 or 25-percent matching stipulation for both interior and exterior improvements. Grant sizes range from $3,000 design and development grants to large renovation grants up the $50,000.
A city financial impact report from June of 2017 notes that the major source for funding urban renewal projects is through "increment financing."
"Once an urban renewal district is established, the tax valuation for the district is 'frozen'," the report notes. "As properties appreciate, the increase in taxes (the 'increment') generated above the frozen base are used to pay for the outlay or debt on specific projects within the urban renewal plan."
The approach hinges on identifying an area where property values are lagging behind those in other areas of the community, then marking that area for infrastructural improvements that incentivize investment. In time when property values increase, the area generates increased tax revenues which pay off urban renewal bonds.
City sources show that Woodburn has about 260 acres of urban renewal area, including "downtown, Front Street to Highway 214 and Highway 214 to redevelopment sites on Stacy Allison, Young Street to Highway 99 and Highway 99 to Highway 211."
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