By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Roughly 50 business owners, employees, residents and supporters were present at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting to offer their thoughts on the city’s proposed downtown redevelopment plan.
After many variations, the plan comes down to:
• Monticello Carpet & Interiors proposes to build a new 5,000 square foot building in its former footprint.
• Steve Intlekofer proposes to give his lot to the city.
• Tom Keleher proposes to sell his lot to the city for $3,000. The city has received financial commitments from Tom Yeoman and the Althoff family (owners of Monticello Carpet & Interiors) to cover the $3,000. The city would cover the cost of demolition.
• The city would buy the Chally duplex next to the Monticello Express and Shoppers’ Guide building. The lot would be turned into an 18-space parking lot with walking access to First Street. The idea is to utilize city TIF money for part of the project. (That ultimate decision is up to the Council.)
• The Intlekofer and Keleher lots on First Street would be turned into a green space area, owned by the city, but managed by the Chamber of Commerce. Should a potential business owner show interest in the lot, it would be made available for development.
Many people spoke up during the meeting, covering a variety of topics and asked many questions of the City Council.
City Administrator Doug Herman offered that since 1992, the downtown corridor has been contributing to the city’s TIF fund. While all of the downtown businesses have been doing so, that TIF money has been spent on worthwhile projects over the years. However, those projects, while benefitting the city as a whole through economic development, have not been in the immediate downtown area.
Judy Tuetken, who owns three downtown buildings, proposed the question, “What has the city done with TIF money since 1992 to enhance First Street?” To anyone’s recollection, nothing came to mind. Tuetken continued, “You’ve contributed to other TIF projects, it’s time to contribute to our project now!”
Chamber Director Barbara Hoffman spent several days walking up and down First Street and adjacent streets, talking with businesses about the downtown project. She noted that everyone she was able to visit with was in favor of the proposed project. “No one had any objections,” she noted. “Everyone wants our downtown to succeed.”
Tom Keleher, who is remaining at his current location in Armin Plaza, also owns a couple of buildings downtown. His former store is proposed to come down. He also owns the building that houses Bank of the West, which is leaving after the first of the year. Keleher said at his Main Street location, he shares 22 parking spots with three other businesses. At his First Street location, he shared 16 spots with the entire downtown.
“You don’t realize how vital parking is until you get out of the downtown area,” Keleher said. “I believe my business has increased because of more parking.”
Council member Bill Meyer said that he feels it is not the city’s job to pay for a parking lot. “That concerns me,” he said. “Why is it our responsibility?”
Bob Chronowski, owner of Home Furniture Gallery, said that over the years business owners like himself have been paying for city improvements elsewhere. Asking the city for the money to help with additional parking ($11,000 per the 18-space lot) is not asking much.
“I’m confused,” he said. “We pay our taxes and support the community. The $11,000 is not much money for the long-term investment. You’ll lose the city if you don’t improve things.”
The common theme among all those who spoke up (Richard Schneiter, Deb Keating, Katie Farrowe, Erin Danneman, Annette Smith, Chip Smith, Ashley Keunen, Sandy Moats and Bud Johnson) is that the city needs to do something to improve parking downtown, make it a place for businesses to thrive and attractive for people to come to Monticello and shop.
“We want Monticello to be a destination,” said Sandy Moats. “People want to come here to shop.”
In the end, the Council unanimously approved the downtown redevelopment plan and set a public hearing for Monday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. to consider amending the city’s Urban Renewal Plan to add the downtown redevelopment project.