Editorial: Saving Elko’s downtown, one facade at a time

It’s nice to see Elko’s Redevelopment Agency adopt a viable storefront improvement program. The plan approved this week will provide matching funds for projects in the $10,000 to $25,000 range, but we think the rate of decline downtown calls for a more focused and aggressive approach.

Businesses have been leaving “main street” and more will follow – even after removing the strip-joint bar from its midst.

Is Elko serious about redeveloping blighted areas downtown, or will we end up putting lipstick on a pig?

The lack of focus on the Redevelopment Agency was highlighted this week in the debate over a

request for funds to help demolish buildings at 10th and Idaho streets to make way for a new attorney’s office.

Page Investments LLC/Lostra Engineering wanted $30,000 for demolition and infrastructure at the location, which is currently occupied by three dilapidated buildings. The company presented plans for a 4,300-square-foot Bradshaw Law building to go in their place.

City Planner Cathy Laughlin supported the request, and RDA member John Patrick Rice fought hard for its passage, but the board ended up punting it to the Redevelopment Advisory Council for review.

Opponents correctly pointed out that there was no program in place or precedence for such a deal. It’s also several blocks from the core of downtown, in a neighborhood that has already seen significant renewal via private investment.

Yes, there is plenty of blight within the redevelopment district, and the 10th and Idaho properties definitely qualify. But the RDA does not have a geographical or more specific list of priorities to fit such requests into. Shuffling proposals down the chain of command is likely to discourage developers.

Sharing the costs of demolition, or even funding it outright, would be a legitimate use of RDA funds. Which brings up another issue that got tabled this week: the offer from the Pescios to donate the former Dupont/Cherished Friends building at Fifth and Idaho to the City.

It’s hard to imagine any other project having a more noticeable impact on the downtown district than this one. The building is literally falling apart, and beyond repair, so replacing it should be a top priority.

As one reader commented at elkodaily.com, “Doesn’t it say something worth noting that one of the four main cornerstone properties in the very heart of Elko’s downtown is not considered a great investment opportunity by the City itself?”

The RDA has limited funds to work with, and demolition bids came in at the $200,000-plus range. Any work would be complicated by the fact that the building shares walls with two other properties.

At the other end of the block sits another building in even worse shape, after private reconstruction plans fell through. The result is a set of crumbling bookends on what is supposed to be the central showcase of downtown Elko.

A few fancy facades won’t be enough to spark renewal if the buildings beside them are falling apart.

After more than a decade of existence the RDA should be getting a firmer grasp on its priorities. We need a better system in place to evaluate where the agency can get the most bang for its buck, before the next business packs up and leaves.

Original post from ElkoDaily.com – http://elkodaily.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-saving-elko-s-downtown-one-facade-at-a-time/article_e8ef1df1-dbcd-5c63-83c8-597cd78a7163.html

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