The council listened to city employee proposals ranging from daily downtown cleaning and creating tax incentives to placing all entities involved in downtown revitalization under more central leadership.
The proposals were discussed so they could possibly be brought up for vote at a later council meeting.
“We’re glad to see these heavy-duty tools, which are strategies we have been proposing for years,” said Betsy Bean, executive director of Spirit of Anniston, who attended the work session. “These are good ideas.”
Spirit of Anniston is a city-supported board created to promote the development of the city’s historic downtown area.
“We welcome the opportunity to collaborate,” Bean said.
Bean was referring in part to a proposal that Spirit of Anniston and several city authorities be placed under the guidance of the recently created Department of Planning and Economic Development. In theory, the department would then provide more guided focus for downtown redevelopment.
“It doesn’t appear to me that we’re always on the same page,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins. “I think there needs to be some merging of the groups.”
City planner Toby Bennington specifically mentioned placing the city’s public building and downtown redevelopment authorities under the planning department’s umbrella. Unlike Spirit of Anniston, the redevelopment authority has the power to apply for bond money for development purposes.
“We’ve been looking at the services these authorities provide … we’re asking, where does the city go at looking at these entities and maximize what we’re already doing,” Bennington said. “We’re trying to bring everyone all together.”
Robert Dean, the city’s public works director, proposed setting up a four-person workforce solely dedicated to cleaning and maintaining downtown Anniston. Don Hoyt, the city manager, said the proposal would cost approximately $36,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year. The council could then re-evaluate what it wanted to spend when creating next year’s budget.
Dean said the work crew would be responsible for daily cleaning of the downtown area, including weed-cutting, trash collection and street-sweeping. The crew would also provide any sign and sidewalk repairs, along with parking spot re-striping where necessary.
“The result will be a cleaner downtown,” Hoyt said.
Bennington also proposed creating an enterprise zone downtown – an area where the city could provide incentives for people to open up small businesses there. Many of downtown’s buildings are currently vacant. Bennington said there are various ways to set up an enterprise zone. For example, a tax could be applied to goods and services just in the designated enterprise zone and the revenue could then only be spent on that zone.
“It would go strictly to improvement like roads,” Bennington said.
Mayor Gene Robinson said he hoped implantation of plans to revitalize downtown would be done as quickly as possible.
“I thought the planning department was a no-brainer … but that took three years to put together,” Robinson said. “Let’s not spend another three years talking.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star