Proposal before DDA deserves serious look

The Downtown Development Authority is considering a proposal to make two plots of prime real estate available to a developer to build townhomes and apartments.

We think it’s a good idea, primarily because the development company brings the right perspective and attitude to the table.

Downtown needs a mix of urban-style housing options to continue on a path of revitalization, but the private sector isn’t making it happen.

That’s why a public-private partnership makes sense. As the Sentinel’s Charles Ashby explained Monday, REgeneration Development Strategies wants the DDA to front the land — the old R-5 High School and the historic White Hall properties —allowing the company to limit financing to construction costs.

This project is a natural extension of what DDA should be doing — creating excitement and interest in the downtown area — without waiting for buyers to emerge for the DDA-owned properties. The proposal being offered by REgeneration could prove demand for a kind of housing that doesn’t exist and kick-start private investment in similar projects.

REgeneration doesn’t seem to be in this project to cart buckets of cash out of the community. It brings a “pioneering context” to the proposed development, said company president Jeremy Nelson, which means it understands that certain things have to happen for a first-of-its-kind project to succeed. 

That includes using local resources as much as possible. The company wants to pursue financing through a local lender and choose a local general contractor. It also means retaining a stakeholder/owner role to ensure proper development and building in small chunks to create value. “Dosing” the market limits exposure and tests the market at the same time.

REgeneration is targeting the “missing middle” of the housing market. These units aren’t high-end. Nor are they subsidized housing. They’re “market rate” and targeted at relocating young professionals or downsizing baby boomers who are willing to trade space for access to downtown living.

If the DDA agrees, Nelson’s company would build 37 townhomes behind the existing R-5 building, which later would be renovated into lofts. The White Hall property would become an apartment building with commercial space on the ground level.

These projects could reinject a meaningful existence into downtown. More people living downtown expands the customer base for downtown shops and restaurants, which could lure more business to cash in on the greater numbers or lead to longer hours of operation for existing businesses. It also normalizes downtown as a residential area, which could be an effective deterrent against vagrancy.

The DDA is blessed with good leadership and infrastructure. It’s uniquely qualified to decide whether this project is a good fit with their long-term vision. Now that a downtown event center is off the table, it’s time to consider how “small ball” projects can help revitalize downtown.


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