Development plan workshops move concept to version 2.0
Consultant Nore Winter, president of Winter & Company Urban Design and Planning Studio, calls it the “Son of Main Street Concept.” In any case, Mammoth Lakes’ original concept for redeveloping the Main Street district has moved on to version 2.0, with several changes cropping up from a three-day series of public workshops held last week.
During a final meeting in Suite Z on Thursday evening, April 4 several consultants and Town Associate Transportation Planner Jessica Morriss, who is overseeing the plan, met with the public to review what’s new and how we’re going to pay for it.
The plan, funded by a Caltrans grant, calls for the project to cover the full length of Main Street, roughly from the gateway signs to Minaret. Abe Barge from Boulder, Colorado-based Winter & Company said that in light of extensive input from the community, businesses and other stakeholders, redevelopment would be best executed either in phases or chunks of parcels, though no specific time line has yet emerged. “Reality is that you probably won’t find all the money at once,” Barge said.
A half-dozen or so concepts were narrowed down to a single preferred design, which removes frontage roads on either side, but keeps Hwy 203 within its existing boundaries, a key money-and logistics-saving feature. In addition, it adds landscaping and converts the existing bike lanes to parallel parking. A new cycle track lane would then be located adjacent to sidewalks.
Barge indicated that the redone frontage areas provide an opportunity to move some buildings or storefronts 35 feet closer to the street, at the same time making the corridor more pedestrian friendly. New public spaces along the way, such as an idea for a park area outside the Post Office location, would include transit “plazas” with bus pullouts and sheltered waiting areas.
Streets leading to residential neighborhoods, such as Sierra Valley Sites, would generally be left as they are.
As to the look of some of the stores, Barge acknowledged that not all the private property owners would redevelop. Some, he said, have expressed interest in doing so, but others are only considering the idea, and some might never change things. Incentives, he suggested, could be offered but would need to be balanced in the buy-in equation.
The bottom line, Barge estimated, would be about $6.5 million, including $1.3 million in road improvements, $350,000 in transit improvements and $4.7 million in pedestrian/bike improvements along the former frontages. “A lot of [the pedestrian/bike improvements] would involve relocation of underground utilities,” Barge explained.
Some in the public, including property owner John Vereuck and contractor Martin Kleinbard thought the price tag too low. Vereuck said he thinks it might be closer to $20 million. Winter said that when the final estimates are done, he’d welcome going over them with local business leaders.
“We can’t do anything until snow storage and utilities are addressed,” Winter said. “The phases could take several years to get to depending on what processes need to happen.”
Winter was also realistic about the costs. “In the current economic climate, 99% of redevelopment costs exceed value, which isn’t terribly good news,” he elaborated. “The question is do you wait to pull out of the recession?”
Check, please …
While it’s hard to say exactly how much a Main Street makeover would actually cost the Town, Jamie Licko, president of Denver-based financial consulting firm Centro, said she thinks it absolutely could be done.
“We have lots of analysis to do, including firming up actual costs, but the idea would be to match the plan to the best funding tools available,” Licko told the room. A public-private partnership approach is essential, she added.
Licko suggested that paying for the plan could be done via three potentially interlocking parts. One would cover designing and building infrastructure, another covers maintenance and a third would be incentives to private businesses to participate.
In terms of design and building, bonding and leveraging existing funding streams could be accomplished best through organizing Infrastructure Finance Districts and Community Development Corporations. IFDs have been on the books in California for several years, coming into prominence with the recent dissolution of the state’s Redevelopment Agencies. Funded from property taxes, IFDs can exist for up to 30 years, and require a 2/3 vote of voters and property owners specifically living or doing business in the district.
CDCs, by comparison, are community-based nonprofit organizations that leverage a diversity of funds, such as grants, fees, and private investment and donations, all of which are tax deductible. Because of their nonprofit status, Licko pointed out that CDCs could finance lots of projects with less bureaucratic red tape.
Maintenance could be done using a Benefit Assessment District, one of which already exists on Old Mammoth Road, or by establishing a Community Facilities District or Property-Based Improvement District. There are, according to Licko, about 200 such PBIDs in California, which assess non-residential commercial or government properties for special services.
Similar to other BIDs, PBIDs require 51% approval of assessed owners. A first term of five years can be renewed for 10 years, and the PBID’s structure and auditing forces accountability.
As for the private sector, Licko outlined a strategy that would use a mix of Development Impact Fee considerations, utilizing existing assets, such as public real estate and creation of a Parking District or Authority to generate revenue for more redevelopment.
Not a Disneyland
“[Mammoth’s] challenge has always been Main Street, because it’s not really ours, but we’re a major stakeholder in it,” Morriss opined. “It’s our key transit and commercial corridor.
“Right now, we’re testing all this stuff to find out if it works. We need to compete against our peer resorts, not against ourselves.”
Winter took that point further. “[Main Street] shouldn’t be a Disneyland for tourists,” he stated. “It should be a real downtown for you that tourists can share.”
A preliminary draft Implementation Plan is expected in September, with a final draft projected by December.