Palestine Magazine May 2019 - Page 27

DOWNTOWN Revitalizing Downtown Palestine P alestine Economic Development Corporation officials are taking the first steps to revitalize the 44 blocks of downtown – a process they ac- knowledge could take decades. Truth be told, rebuilding downtown could take tens of millions of dollars – money the city does not have. Still, PEDC and city officials are moving forward, starting with infrastructure. Developing housing, and rebuilding and repairing water mains, roads, and water and sewer pipes may not be the most glamorous tasks, but they are the base – the starting point – of Palestine’s downtown develop- ment. “The foundation has to be addressed,” said PEDC Director Gayle Cooper, who took the economic development job a little more than a year ago. “It’s not only the money,” she said. “There is just so much involved. It’s a slow process. It may not happen in our lifetime, but it will happen.” Palestine will spend roughly $500,000 this year to repair or replace crumbling down- town water and sewer pipes – some of which are more than 80 years old. Half of that money – $250,000 – comes from a Community Development Block Grant. The state grant will match the $250,000 already allocated by the city for rebuilding and repairing antique downtown infrastructure. The $500,000 will be available until Febru- ary 2020. “We will quite easily be able to spend the $500,000, and we will continue to pursue grants every year,” Cooper said. “It’s a start.” Downtown infrastructure work includes tearing up streets to get to antique pipes, many made with clay. City officials plan to tackle one block at a time, starting with Sycamore and Spring streets. “God forbid it is worse that what we think,” Cooper said. PEDC board members and city officials would like to see lofts built for downtown liv- ing. Lofts, however, generally on the second floor or higher of a renovated building, need to deliver water at adequate pressure to mul- tiple residents. Right now, that can’t be done. “It’s hard to do many things without fixing our water problems,” Cooper said. “Nothing has been done so far to solve the problem.” The PEDC also set aside another $250,000 for downtown business improvements. Busi- nesses with approved projects may get reim- bursed for 50 percent of their costs – with a maximum allocation of $75,000. So far, $180,000 of the $250,000 has been spent. Mayor Steve Presley, who owns a down- town building, said downtown development drives the economic development of cities. “The downtown of any community is its heart,” Presley wrote in a text message. “It is PEDC Director Gayle Cooper the one area where our local businesses can afford to locate and prosper.” Presley also stated the entire city benefits from successful local businesses. Such benefits include property taxes, sales taxes, and em- ployment. APRIL 2019 27