Moving the pile on vacant downtown buildings

It’s working. The owners of the long-vacant unreinforced masonry buildings downtown are coming to City Hall for the proverbial “come to Jesus” meeting with city staff.
It’s been a long time coming.
Faced with a new get-tough ordinance which would slap heavy liens on the properties for non-compliance, the owners are beginning to stir.
That alone is a victory for Mayor Don Gage who led the charge to lay down the new law: Fix it or face the fine music. Councilmembers Perry Woodward, Peter Leroe-Munoz and Teri Aulman joined Gage in the action designed to end years of stalemate with building owners who were, shall we say, unmoved by positive incentives. Those incentives are still in place regarding fee waivers and, hopefully, the owners will take advantage of those before the city shuts the door on those non-compliant owners.
For the city’s part, it’s important that the dialogue with building owners is reasonable. Now that the parties are talking, it’s time to compromise on what needs to be done in order for tenants to occupy the buildings.
The city staff’s interpretations of the improvements needed for reasonable public safety should be just that: reasonable. If the city’s reaction is to up the ante and make the requirements Draconian, Mayor Gage’s plan will go to hell in a handbasket quickly and the city will be stuck with uninhabitable buildings downtown for years.
Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case. Let’s hope that tough negotiations with give and take on both sides yield occupied buildings downtown where vacant buildings now stand. Let’s hope that facades are improved and that downtown starts to pick up the pace in tandem with the overall economy.
It hasn’t happened in the last quarter century, but it can be done. What’s happened in the last few weeks is certainly a cause for optimism. Kudos to Mayor Gage, his fellow councilmembers and city staff for getting this important downtown ball rolling.

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