As the city unveiled a new beautification project Tuesday in the downtown area, some council members were left asking if there was a way to encourage local business owners to help keep the area attractive.
Most of the improvements will include landscaping, irrigation installation or sidewalk repair. But as they approved the move, council members expressed an interest in incentivizing business owners in the area to help maintain it.
“Is there ... some kind of carrot to have Dr. X improve the way the front of his dental office looks? Does that ever work?” Councilman Phil Render asked.
City attorney Tom Ellenburg said the city could offer a grant or a loan to businesses to improve their storefronts, or it could give out vouchers, so that businesses that have invested a certain amount could get a break on license fees.
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Render said he was supportive of a small incentive that would increase competition for individual business owners. “It would fire me up—‘Yeah, I’m gonna win that money,’” he said.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat, however, said the city should encourage businesses to take an intrinsic pride in their neighborhoods.
“If I had a business on the boardwalk, I’d be out there, every day, cleaning up the boardwalk in front of my place, and I don’t think that’s happening,” she said. “Sweat equity doesn’t cost a thing.”
Sweat equity doesn’t cost a thing.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat
The city has made other moves this summer that affect local businesses, including an ordinance that leverages the business licenses of establishments that don’t pick up trash and a plan to hire a contractor to find unlicensed businesses.
The city’s planned beautification efforts, whether through landscaping or improving sidewalks, are at eight locations:
- The traffic median at 29th Ave N and Palmetto Greens;
- The rights of way at Gray Street and Joe White Avenue;
- The planted areas around the dead-end of Broadway Street, near Joe White Avenue;
- The sidewalk from 10th to 12th Avenues North along King’s Highway;
- The area around 9th Avenue North and Withers Drive;
- Joe White Avenue between Chester Street and Withers Alley;
- Intersections at Flagg Street and 6th through 8th Avenues North; and
- Withers Drive from 16th to 24th Avenues North
In total, the project is expected to cost $100,000, which would be split evenly between the city and the Downtown Redevelopment Corp., city manager John Pedersen said. He said the city could hire two new people in the fiscal year 2017 budget to help maintain all the new plantings and work, at a cost of $90,000 to $100,000 a year. The city would also buy an additional vehicle, a one-time cost of about $20,000, he said.
The improvements will cost $100,000, split between the city and the Downtown Redevelopment Corp.
Pedersen said he expects the city will be able to pay for the projects with some funds from the one percent tourism sales tax. Other portions of that tax’s revenue go to the local chamber of commerce for out-of-market advertising and to permanent residents that own their homes as property tax rollbacks.
“We think that this obviously is something that promotes tourism and visitation by our guests, so we think that qualifies,” Pedersen said.
Longer-term facets of the beautification plan include putting power lines underground, aided by an $11 million Santee Cooper fund, and possible improvements to the median along U.S. 17.
The city has also received a $3,000 grant for a second, smaller project that will focus on Nance Plaza, at Kings Highway and 9th Avenue North.
Jessica Brown, a landscape architect working on the plaza, told council Tuesday morning that the project would include more low-growing plants and “pops of color.” She said the plaza is also going to be power-washed, and a mural depicting a classic photograph from local photographer Jack Thompson is already underway.
“It’s really the link between the boardwalk area, the beach area, and this part of downtown,” Brown said.
There’s also a pre-existing splash pad near the main fountain in the park that workers are testing. Assistant city manager Ron Andrews said that the area may be considered a pool by the state, which would require that the city provide bathrooms, a lifeguard and signs.
Ellenburg said he would look into the current regulations after Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat protested that Charleston has similar public splash areas without lifeguards.