Richland County residents look for solutions on Broad River Road

01/29/2013 12:00 AM

01/29/2013 7:03 AM

Richland County is exploring whether a tax district, like one used to revitalize a business district in downtown Columbia, could fund as-yet-unidentified projects along suburban Broad River Road.

Some on County Council say a tax-increment financing district is the best way to reverse blight and attract new business to the corridor lined by ranch-style neighborhoods.

Another more limited approach would be to use sales-tax money for traffic improvements in targeted neighborhoods.

The county’s interest comes at a time when church and community boosters have created a St. Andrews Leadership Roundtable, hoping to keep long-time businesses and homeowners invested in the changing Dutch Fork community.

“Because churches have a certain stability and leadership and strength, churches are the ones that should step forward and take a leadership role, which we’re attempting to do,” said Bob Scott, a deacon at St. Andrews Baptist Church, host of a kick-off meeting earlier this month.

Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson said she’ll be devoting a lot of her efforts this term to improving St. Andrews.

“I want to focus on healthy communities,” with sidewalks, streetlights and beautification projects that encourage people to walk and get to know their neighbors, she said.

“When a neighborhood looks good and it’s green, it feels safe,” Dickerson said. “When you add all those things up, people feel like they’re connected.”

Councilman Bill Malinowski is the one who floated the idea of a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district for Broad River Road. The county has never initiated a TIF, though it participated in a city-initiated tax district benefitting the Vista downtown.

The special tax districts do not increase the amount that property-owners pay but do reserve a portion of revenue for projects within the district. That means money that normally would be spent on services countywide remain in the district.

Malinowski said Broad River Road seems well-suited because it’s a troubled area where improvements could plainly benefit both city and county residents.

Money from a TIF district could be used to improve storefronts, for example, or beautify the corridor in other ways.

To work well, though, both local governments would need to be involved since the city-county line slices the corridor.

“I would be interested in discussing that,” City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman said Monday. “We definitely need some growth in the Broad River area.”

Still, the concept has proved difficult for city and county government leaders, who seem to have reached an impasse on two new city-proposed TIF districts.

County planner Tracy Hegler said the county’s 2010 master plan of Broad River Road identified a TIF district as “one of the best funding mechanisms for improvements to the corridor.” Her initial review indicated much of the corridor would qualify as blighted, she said.

“There does seem to be a lot of energy in the area,” Hegler said.

In the past, city and county leaders fought over a TIF district in the Vista that was poorly managed. More recently, the two have been unable to agree on a proposal for two new TIF districts – one along the riverfront and the other involving North Main Street and the redevelopment of the S.C. State Hospital property.

Al Stoddard, who has run the Allegra print shop in Boozer Shopping Center since 1985, said it’s discouraging to see “black holes” along Broad River Road where businesses didn’t make it.

“We considered moving several times,” he said. “We considered building. But at some point, my wife and I made a commitment to stay here.”

Stoddard said the St. Andrews Leadership Roundtable was a good idea. It was designed as a clearinghouse for sharing ideas on sustaining the area.

Roundtable leader Scott, retired as president of the S.C. Forestry Association, said it was a new minister who compelled the congregation to look at what they could do to improve their surroundings, including addressing social needs.

Though most members travel from a 10- to 15-mile radius, he said, they feel “obligated” to identify and help solve community issues.

While the roundtable started at St. Andrews Baptist, Scott is reaching out to leaders at a half-dozen other churches nearby – including two that rehabilitated rundown property for new sanctuaries that just opened.

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