Community Development: An Interview – Part III

Sandy – “Each of these staff work on what you would call ‘daily quadrants.’ Whatever you work on is what you charge your time to. Because we have such a large list of funding sources; If Drake is working on Housing or Infill, he charges to that. If he’s working on Rehab, he charges to that. If he’s working on the sanitary line break on Oak Point Road, then it’s charged to a General Fund account. So this would be ‘Citizen’s Participation.’ So everyone here, including myself, for this week would charge our time to an account called ‘Citizen’s Participation’ since we’re here explaining who we are and what we do. No one here has a dedicated account because none of us, typically, are funded on a regular basis out of the General Fund. So we’re, to that extent, a business, in that, everything we do has to reflect how we charge our money.

“The staff of Planning are all involved in projects on Pearl Avenue, the restoration of Pearl Avenue, Central Lorain between 14th and 18th, all the way over to Broadway and the Stoveworks, and I just kinda hang around and look important.” (At this point, Sandy, Drake, Howard, Larry and Rey had to leave.)

I told those remaining (Chris, Jan, Don and Doug) how much I appreciated the help and the introduction of the entire department.

Don – “We do pride ourselves on being as accessible as possible. It’s not always possible, but we definitely try to answer any questions that people have. Public records requests, we do have our Consolidated Plans Process that Jan heads up, public meetings, all the Urban Renewal Plans we’ve had at multiple public meetings; we try to interact with the public to the best of our ability, try to answer questions, as well, when the public does have them, we keep a fairly flat organization, it allows for a lot of interaction amongst the people that work here, we have a fairly creative environment in house once we’re given the idea which direction the Administration would like to go, or which direction Council would like to go.”

I asked if there was anything that the citizens of Lorain could do to help ComDev do their job.

Jan – “I think that we need to keep an open dialogue, and if there are issues, if there are concerns, then it’s important that they speak up and let us know about it. And rather than spread rumors, come to us and talk to us directly. We can’t be everywhere, so if you see something, if you see an issue, a building that is vacant, either contact us or the Police or somebody, don’t just complain about it. Open dialogue is very important.

Don – “Attend the public meetings that we have. They’re advertised in the paper, they’re on our webpage. Typically, we get real good turnout on urban renewal meetings because everyone’s afraid of eminent domain. I don’t think as part of Urban Renewal, we’ve ever exercised (eminent domain proceedings)…, we actually negotiated a settlement on one. I don’t think we’ve ever actually made it into the courtroom and had a verdict given. Typically, it ends up being negotiated well before then. But that’s when we get the big turnout.

“Take a look at our track record; take a look at the plans. They’re not the fanciest, but they’re realistic. They provide an idea of where it is the City wants to go; they’ve all had the input of the public. Like the lakefront one, we don’t jam these studies to meet our needs, we actually go in with the open mind and see, ‘Does the area qualify?’, and if it doesn’t, we have to adjust.

“We’re trying to build some credibility; we’re definitely all professionals here. We’ve always let the work talk for itself. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t always get out. Public participation, communication with us, the webpages have been updated, the contact information we’ve had out for about 4 years now.”

Jan – “And that goes with what I was saying about the open dialogue. We appreciate when individuals like you actually come and talk to us, and find out what’s going on, because it’s usually the same response: the eye-opening ‘Oh, you really are doing something.’ The perceptions are not always valid. Also, understanding that we are constrained by the bureaucracy, which is a necessary layer that is imposed upon all of the City government, because we are using public money. But that means that we are not able to jump and react as quickly as those in the private sector. So, when we want to make changes to the pages on the web(site), we can’t just go in and change it. We can’t just call up the company that does the webpage and have it changed. We also cannot just wave a magic wand and have development along here. We’d love to have that along Broadway. We’d love to be able to fill those vacant buildings. There are constraints that, unless you’re actually right here on the pavement, you don’t realize. So, we appreciate it when individuals like you actually come in and find out what’s going on, rather than just repeating the age-old ‘What are they doing?’, ‘What a waste of time-red tape bureaucracy.’”

Chris – “And to what Don said about our track record, we kinda made a shift about 10 years ago, into really focusing on economic development and job creation, and bringing investment to the City. Prior to that, the department mainly focused on Streets and Parks, and more on the community aspect of what the department was able to do. When we refocused onto the economic development, we really went headfirst into the Industrial Park on the East Side. It’s taken about 10 years to get to this point. We’re starting to see some fruits of that with a couple companies going in there. I guess a testament to good track record is when we did our Black River Master Plan, that was 8 years ago that we finished that. What you see on the Plan is what we’re building. It’s really quite remarkable a plan has actually made it to structure.”

Don – “A government plan being built?! You’re kidding me?!”

Chris – “We’re quite proud of that. It’s the goal of having business and industry coming in and working in concert with environmental concerns and working together on that. That’s really a success over there.”

Doug – “Even the financing on that, it’s taken a couple of trips down to Columbus to get the right mix. When we started out, we were at a much higher debt level and when we looked at it, we said ‘Gee, that’s something that we want to be at.’ So, in terms of discussion, the grants, we kept taking it along, and the grants, from like the Department of Commerce kept going up until we got to $2 million. Don and I went down there one time, and we were discussing one State loan, and they helped us out by switching part of it from a loan, and made it an additional grant. So, we finally molded something that we believed could be something the City would find acceptable. And there was a lot behind that. There’s a lot of documentation that takes place that, I’ve got a binder that’s this thick just on the one State loan. And the EPA loan that we have has a lot of documentation. I think a lot of times, people don’t understand all of the work that goes behind that just to get to that final signing. The documentation here is extremely heavy.”

Jan – “But it should be.”

Doug – “So, everything has a reason, sometimes it may not seem as clear. When people ask, ‘Why?’ we typically have a real good answer because there is a good answer on why we went this way or that way.”

Part IV will be posted Wednesday, and the question how Com Dev funds itself is asked.

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4 thoughts on “Community Development: An Interview – Part III

  1. When I was campaigning and meeting with the Depts. (Such as Com Dev) I kept saying we need to show the citizens what is going on, there are two sides to every story. We need a little PR work to promote the good things City Workers are doing for the city.
    And as it was said, if you have a question go straight to the source.
    Is it difficult for Com Dev to get reports (public information) to the public if they’re requested?

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