The big picture on a proposed urban renewal district in the Uniontown and Port of Astoria area became a little clearer Wednesday.
The Port/Uniontown Urban Renewal District Steering Committee's progress in developing the proposed district's borders and goals were presented in a public meeting attended by about 15 residents.
Developing a financial support structure for a possible conference center on Port of Astoria property was announced as a key facet of the urban renewal project.
"This will be one of the legs of the stool to help the conference center," said Astoria Community Development Director Paul Benoit. "It's conceivable that the district may only be able to pay for the conference center."
The proposed district could finance infrastructure improvements in underutilized and deteriorating areas of the port and Uniontown. Improvements could include road construction, new sidewalks, parks and building rehabilitation, but will likely focus on a conference center.
The city would repay development costs to the developer's lending bank using the increased property tax revenue generated by new, largely commercial development, such as hotels and restaurants surrounding the center.
This money could not be used for other city projects or departments, and would have to be reinvested in the renewal district.
Benoit presented the possible borders for the proposed district at an April 11 public meeting. From the Doughboy statue in the east, the district would roughly stretch to Smith Point in the west. The south side of Marine Drive, including the row of businesses below the Uniontown slope, would serve as the southern perimeter. The Committee proposed two small additions Wednesday, including land at the entrance to the Youngs Bay Bridge and a hillside under the Astoria Bridge. Benoit said the two additional areas would enable the district to beautify entry points into the city.
Some residents expressed concerns that the district would block tax revenue that would otherwise go to the city's general fund.
"This hurts the general fund and cuts off different departments," said resident Don Webb. "Any development in the area would go to the district."
Charlie Kupper, the city's urban renewal consultant, said the port and Uniontown areas are not generating much money for the general fund as is.
"You can't lose what you never had," he said. "The city's not getting much revenue at all from the area right now. Many people think, and I do too, that the area is underperforming."
With an urban renewal project underway, Kupper believes money could more strategically be used to develop the area.
Webb also urged the committee to come up with a date for the district to end so property taxes are not permanently locked into the district.
"No one knows when this will end," he said.
According to Benoit, the committee is considering a cap on how much the district can raise. Once the limit is reached, the renewal project would be terminated.
Benoit also stressed the district would not mean an increase in property taxes. A levy created under the renewal district stretching from the east side of downtown to 22nd Street imposed an additional fee for residents to pay. But recent state laws mandate renewal districts no longer have the authority to raise levies, Benoit said.
Residents also asked questions about how much money the district is expected to raise. Kupper assured the audience that financial goals and estimates would be clarified, as well as other details, in the next public presentation of the committee's work, July 10 at the Port of Astoria commission chambers.
Benoit expects three to four more public presentations before the committee's final recommendation to the City Council by late summer or early fall.