Lexington mulls way to pay for downtown revival

tflach@thestate.comNovember 18, 2013 

Steve MacDougall

Lexington town leaders are ready to pledge future property tax growth downtown to help pay for improvements intended to spur the area’s comeback as a retail hub.

“If we are doing to redevelop downtown, this is the way to do it,” Mayor-elect Steve MacDougall said after the plan was outlined Monday. “It sounds good.”

The plan would pay for an amphitheater and plaza on Church Street across from Town Hall and a path around the Old Mill Pond nearby, features intended to attract shoppers to the area.

It will cover sections of Main Street and adjoining roads, but its borders are fluid pending further study, town administrator Britt Poole said.

The plaza would host concerts and other events designed to focus attention on downtown. Preliminary plans call for it to be large enough for 1,000 people.

It would be the third park in the area a few blocks apart, a step planners suggested to provide venues for a series of events that build interest in going downtown as the community of 18,000 residents expands.

No one is sure of the amount of taxes it would produce until the area included is determined, but the initial price tag for the improvements is $15 million..

Town leaders have suggested it will be necessary to earmark taxes for 15 years to pay for the projects.

The plan – known as tax increment financing – will be one of the major ways to pay for the projects, Poole said.

“This is the mechanism that makes the most sense,” he said, adding that assistance from unspecified public-private partnerships also is likely.

Town leaders are looking to sell a half-dozen buildings acquired in purchasing the site for the plaza and amphitheater, hoping those are wanted by new merchants.

The plan is a tool new to Lexington but is used by some of its municipal neighbors such as Cayce and Columbia.

Town leaders hope to settle on the final shape of the plan by January and then submit it to Lexington County and Lexington 1 school officials for acceptance, since each would give up revenue growth for the length of the plan..

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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