December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Brinda to propose city entity to hold commercial properties

Holly Brinda

Holly Brinda

ELYRIA — The creation of a nonprofit organization that can serve as a go-between for the city and developers is being proposed by Mayor Holly Brinda.

If City Council signs off on establishing the Elyria Community Improvement Corporation, the city will be able to better steer future economic development by owning strategic pieces of commercial property. The idea is not for the city to go into the real estate business. But by holding onto key properties it can have a greater influence over future use.

“The intent would be for the board, which by state law can be made up of the mayor, members of Council and community members, to work with the city’s economic development plan to strategically advance projects in the city,” Brinda said. “We don’t have a mechanism in place that will allow us to basically assemble properties that can be made available to corporations and businesses.”

Brinda will present the idea of establishing the community improvement corporation Monday to City Council during a joint Community Development and Finance Committee meeting. It is a part of the city’s bigger economic development plan, but is coming in advance of Brinda rolling out the entire proposal to Council.

With a proposal to place an income tax increase on the ballot and time dwindling for Council to vote, Brinda said she is holding off on the lengthy presentation.

But she said the quasi public-private entity would be easy to create and cost the city little beyond the legalities of establishing a 501(c)3. She estimated that cost to be about $2,500.

“Community improvement corporations can take in funds from other organizations and take in grants,” Brinda said. “It will have its own economic engine behind it, so it doesn’t cost the city taxpayer dollars.”

Councilman Vic Stewart, head of the Finance Committee, said he will keep an open mind about such an entity.

“We are a city working to encourage our existing businesses and companies to stay and new companies to come. It’s a challenge every day,” he said. “We have to consider all things because economic development is important to growing our tax base and tax revenues so we don’t have to run to the voters.”

Councilman Tom Callahan, head of the Community Development Committee, was unavailable.

Brinda said most cities have similar groups at their disposal — such as the Lorain Port Authority — and the absence of one in Elyria is costing the city. The best example Brinda said she could offer was a recent project she worked on to bring a new call center to the city from California. In the end, the city had no commercial space it could offer the developer, who was left to negotiate directly with a private owner and could not forge a deal.

“That was eight months of my time, and it went nowhere because they were negotiating with private property owners, and the city really can’t negotiate or determine what a private property owner should do.”

But if the city was the one at the table, the outcome might have been different.

“It makes sense for a city to take control of strategic properties that are situated in commercial areas,” Brinda said. “They could fall into other hands when the city could have them and influence the development of said properties.”

Brinda said the city can’t even take the donation of commercial property within the current framework. That could potentially become a problem for the highly charged topic of the former General Industries site.

John Peshek, who owns the property, has given the city a land access agreement for environmental studies and is willing to donate the property to the city for redevelopment once the studies are complete and the city has a firm grasp on the environmental liabilities.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.