We've all heard that old adage, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink." That's exactly where the Pendleton Development Commission (PDC) is at with their "second story" program. Even with additional incentives, that same horse refuses to drink. Perhaps it's time to lead him over to Byers Avenue and put him to work.
Despite the rosy picture painted by both the PDC and the Pendleton Downtown Association (PDA), vacancies are on the upswing all over town. Penny's, Wicked Kitty, Curio Shop, Mosa, Pupcakes, the Bike Shop, Mann Mortgage, and United Grain, just to name a few, are all empty or closed, and that's just downtown. Have you checked that strip mall near Walmart? Empty would be an appropriate description. That Portland "Pearl District" mentality continues to permeate the PDC, and it just isn't working.
The question now is should PDC funding be used to fix Byers Avenue? The opposition contends this does nothing to increase the tax base, the purpose of the PDC programs. Au contraire! You'd be remiss claiming replacing a pothole-riddled street and new sidewalks wouldn't increase property values. Building value increases the tax base, and that's what urban renewal is all about. Byers' residents contribute property taxes to fund the PDC. Shouldn't they share in the benefits? Must everything go to business?
The precedent has been set for funding public projects: Riverfront Park, Main Street speed bumps, statues, repaving downtown parking lots and paying the salary of the PDA director. It's been suggested that only 25% of remaining PDC funds be used for public projects, far short of the $3 million requested by the city manager, the actual executive director of the PDC. The PDC account seems now no more than a slush fund for the city council and they just don't want to give it up. Revenue that should be used for infrastructure repair is siphoned off for pet projects. Until the PDC expires, deferred maintenance on public infrastructure will remain just that, deferred.
Then there's this: After successfully convincing the PDA to provide grant funding for a new air- conditioning system through the Main Street USA program, the new owners of the Elks Club are asking the PDC for a "historical building" grant, promising a brass plaque to thank taxpayers. Is that historical or hysterical?