Posted 5/10/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Tioga Economic Development Corporation is taking steps to protect how some empty downtown lots will be developed, while at the same time finding an interim use for them.
The Tioga Commission, at the last regular meeting, approved a Tioga Fund grant application for the EDC for up to $40,000.
The purpose is to support what EDC President Chris Norgaard calls a “beautification proposal.”
The EDC will cover the lots, which are currently dirt and rocks, with sod and install a sprinkler system.
“We’re going to install some outlets for inflatables and so forth, and then we can have power and won’t have to listen to a noisy generator,” Norgaard said.
The improvements will turn the lots temporarily into a city park for the purposes of community events. The goal is to generate activity downtown.
“If we get some activity down there, then when developers do come around, maybe they’ll say, “Hey, I want to be downtown Tioga,’” Norgaard said.
The work is set to begin this month.
The idea of turning the lots into a park is nothing new. At an EDC meeting in February of last year, Corbin Graham, who developed Mainstay Suites, suggested a park could provide an anchor for activity.
At the time, the EDC board had a lukewarm response to the proposal, but over time, as the lots went unused, the idea began to catch on.
Dennis Lindahl, community development coordinator, said at the last regular commission meeting the EDC began to really see the potential for this option last Christmas when the city erected a 20-foot tree at the spot and found it well visited.
“Everybody liked standing by the Christmas tree,” Lindahl said.
Lindahl said the park will utilize the resource for what could be a long time before a developer comes along to buy the property.
“We could be looking at this downturn being three years,” Lindahl said.
Still for sale
Lindahl stressed the EDC still wants to sell the lots. The park project is only temporary.
The EDC is taking steps to protect the asset during the downturn by making the lots for sale for development only.
The board is concerned falling property prices will make the lots more attractive to speculation.
“We expect the offers to be very few and very low. This is not a time when the EDC would like to unload these lots inexpensively so somebody else can get the benefit of sitting on the lots” until market conditions improve, Lindahl told the commission.
A speculator could end up selling the lots to someone who, for example, wants to build another bar, which would not “meet the goals of the EDC and its mission,” Lindahl said.
Lindahl requested City Attorney Ben Johnson review real estate laws and provide the EDC with an opinion on whether the properties’ MLS listing could possibly obligate the board to sell to anyone or if they can legally choose buyers by their intent.
Johnson said he’d look into the question.
In addition to the city park, the back half of the lots is being converted into gravel parking.
This area will create 14 off-street parking spaces, which will have a fence around it. A walkway will connect the lots to Main Street.
Lindahl said the post office, which is being relocated to the former location of Hegstad Furniture, requested buying two of the downtown lots for its own parking.
The EDC was concerned how this could limit development possibilities in the future and turned the request down.