Thursday, July 14, 2016

Annual Meeting off to a great start

Day One of the 2016 Annual Meeting kicked off this morning with almost 300 municipal officials participating in four preconference sessions. 

Learning from North Charleston

It was a morning of “re’s”—repurpose, revitalize and redevelop. Nearly 100 people climbed into buses Thursday morning to explore North Charleston’s community development transformation.

Ryan Johnson, economic development and public relations official for the City of North Charleston, addresses attendees at the North Charleston Riverfront Park, adjacent to homes once occupied by Naval officers.

The three-hour tour revealed how North Charleston has given new purpose to old sites, be it an asbestos spinning mill, World War II housing or the old Navy officers’ housing campus.

“We are an industrial hub,” Mayor Keith Summey said, during a breakfast at the city’s coliseum. At any time during the day there could be 300,000 people in the city, either shopping, working or driving through, he said.

“Government has changed dramatically at the municipal level. We used to depend basically on property tax. We don’t do that anymore,” he said. “Hotel/motel accommodation fees, food and beverage taxes, business licenses, different forms of revenue that helps us become the type of city we need to be to enhance the quality of life for all of our people.”

One of the ways the 44-year-old city has approached revitalization was donating land to the Medical University of South Carolina to entice it to build a children’s outpatient center. 

The city also used leftover tax-increment finance district money from its Centre Pointe area to build a new city hall and a Fire Museum. On a smaller scale, the city purchased the former Shipwatch retail site with the intention of opening a grocery store in a food desert.

Afternoon breakout sessions got people thinking and creative juices flowing. 

These aren't the same old economic development practices 

Hartsville, Anderson and Greenwood showcased several successful creative approaches that have spurred economic growth in their downtowns.

Greenwood has reprioritized its marketing budget to focus more on using social media with professionally produced videos. "We took part of our marketing dollars from our downtown tax district and redirected it to video production," explained Greenwood City Manager Charlie Barrineau.

Anderson launched a “shark tank”-type grant program to support emerging entrepreneurs. The businesses that won are part of the city's focus on bringing certain types of businesses downtown. Read more about Anderson's grant program in this recent Uptown article that also appears in the summer Cities Mean Business magazine.

Suzy Moyd, Hartsville's downtown manager, explained how long-time businesses and new companies are both populating the downtown district. "We have four long-time businesses that just wouldn't give up on downtown," Suzy said.

Hartsville's Mantissa Executive Suites and Spa
She also showcased one of Hartsville's signature revitalization projects, the Mantissa Executive Suites and Spa. This project will be recognized on Saturday with a Main Street SC Inspiration Award. 

When water and sewer systems produce a surplus 

The Supreme Court’s decision in Azar v. City of Columbia means city officials would be wise to spell out the details of a utility fund transfer—exactly what they’re doing and how they’re justifying it. Municipal attorneys Eric Shytle, Lawrence Flynn, III and Danny Crowe offered constructive ways to gird against a legal challenge similar to the one leveled against the City of Columbia.

In short: Talk to city engineers. Consult the public works department. Get the rationale for a utility fund transfer laid out with the numbers and reasoning to back it up. Ideally, the decision-making process can be presented in court, if necessary.

“These ideas have been put down in writing in a policy, a resolution or an ordinance, the purpose has been explained, the reasons for that action have been explained, and that goes a long way,” Danny said. “Columbia did not have the benefit of knowing it was going to have to do that, have an explanation available. … You need to ask yourself, ‘Well, could a court looking at our utility fund and our transfers say the same thing, that we were making transfers without documenting and explaining why?’”

This July Uptown article gives some more background on this case.


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