Rose Among Thorns

Why do silly colloquialism stick with me!? I blame my Grandpa Murphy!

I was at the Culver Town Council Meeting on the 9th. They appointed Lilly Arzola to the Culver Redevelopment Commission (CRC). She made a nice introduction and said that she is a life-long resident and now that her son is out of high school, she wanted to give back to the community. I think it’s great that she’s stepping up. My odd sense of humor can’t help but look at the make up of the CRC and the Town Council and wonder… Sally would be called a Rose among Thorns as the only woman on the Town Council. What would you call Marty Oosterbaan as the only man on the CRC now? Inquiring minds want to know!

Moving on…

The CRC has been more active than most redevelopment commissions. Often redevelopment commissions are accused of hording money, but the CRC has actively put their dollars to work in the community. It will be interesting to see what the new group decides to do as there is only one returning member this year. Of course, as always, I have opinions and suggestions! Here are a few:

Blighted Properties: There are five commercial properties in and around Culver that are constantly discussed as needing improvements. I’ll not be naming names here, but most of you reading this will have properties come to mind. In some cases, the CRC/Town have gone to the point of getting appraisals to consider buying them. They have also pursued them at tax sales and through the Unsafe Building Committee in Culver and Marshall County. They have been met with resistance from the owners who don’t see their properties in the same light. What if these property owners were approached as partners in lieu of adversaries?

  • The Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) has Blight Clearance Program with grant opportunities for improvements to blighted properties. Possibly the CRC could champion one or more of these properties for improvement under this program.
  • The CRC already has a Facade Grant Program. Why not look at expanding this program to include cleanup of properties such as these? I can envision some pushback as this would “enrich” the property owner, but why is this any different from the enrichment offered with a facade grant? In the grand scheme of things, this not only increases property values which will be recognized in tax assessments, but it adds value to surrounding properties which are likely adversely affected. Whether it’s a renovation, a clean up or a complete tear down, this would add value to the community.
  • The CRC could also be the catalyst for change in a positive manner here. Provide those property owners with updated appraisals. Provide them with professional recommendations on what improvements would increase value. If appropriate, provide them with Phase I Survey information or sponsor them with Marshall County if that Brownfield Program is reinstated. Provide them with paths for better use of the property if those owners want to remain the owners and if not, provide them with resources for lucrative sales. Again, any of these options would have a positive effect on assessed value.
  • For a few hundred dollars, the CRC could commission architectural renderings of ‘What could be’ if the buildings in question were improved. Sometimes it takes an outside eye to see the hidden potential. This could be the catalyst to any of the previous points above.

Expansion Opportunities: There are businesses in Culver that could expand with assistance. In some cases there maybe a lack of knowledge and in others it could just be a perception that the expansion wouldn’t be welcomed. Here are a few that come to mind:

CabinetWorks Billboard on 31 South
  • CabinetWorks sits on a large portion of the land Culver has designated as an Industrial zoning district. As far back as when McGills originally was there, that property was held for control of neighbors, potential future expansion or the potential for a complimentary industry partner. When was the last time the town met with CabinetWorks to discuss their plans or to encourage them to pursue expansion or assist them in finding that complimentary partner? Is the necessary infrastructure in place so that property would be considered “Shovel Ready”?
  • Edge Mechanical, Skyline Builders, Sellers Services are among the many companies that have a large service presence in the Culver area, but do not have a physical facility here. Could the CRC help them start satellite facilities here?
  • The Business Development arm of Culver Crossroads worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to identify potential businesses that would fill a need in Culver. One that fit that need strongest was a sporting goods store. Could the CRC champion recruiting for something like this? (Maybe this would be a chance to kill two birds with one stone and replace one of the above blighted properties with a new commercial venture.)
  • Millers Merry Manor has property surrounding it that was slated for future expansion into an Assisted Living facility at one point. The CRC could approach them to see if these plans are still under consideration and what assistance the town could offer to make this happen. If that plan is no longer viable, what do they want to see there? Could the CRC assist them in finding other opportunities for that property?

Online Presence: The CRC contributed to the effort to bring SURF broadband to Culver. They could champion community education on how to take advantage of this:

  • Sponsor classes that teach web development, online marketing and online sales. The Culver Chamber of Commerce has made several false starts at this, but the broadband access should make this easier.
  • Sponsor upgrades to our town websites including those that represent the town, but are not strictly municipally controlled, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Center, Discover Culver, the Historical Society, LMEC and others that are commonly searched when someone is trying to find out more about Culver.
  • A presentation was made at their meeting on May 15th where a MACOG program for bringing remote workers to Culver was discussed. The CRC could sponsor a specific landing page for people considering that move listing all the positive things and all the options for help. (Most of this is out there already, but just not in an organized form. A good start for this could be made just by linking the existing resources…)
  • Sponsor professional services to improve websites. It could be done similarly to the Facade Program where there would be matching funds. Just as improving building facades makes Culver more presentable when someone visits, having local websites more presentable will help increase visits.
Our name on the big screen

Transition Assistance: Long time businesses that are fixtures in the community often disappear when there’s not clear transition path. Bennett’s was a long-time Culver business that closed last year. Was the town aware they were closing? Did the town offer any assistance to prevent that closure? Is the town working with them after the closure for a new occupant for that building? Another example would be the Evil Czech on the Davis Street. While the town benefited when the lot was donated to them, wouldn’t it have been better for the town if a replacement business was there?

  • The CRC could implement a program similar to the BEAR (Business Expansion And Retention) program MCEDC uses to keep track of industrial users could be implemented locally with our current businesses. Touching base and understanding challenges, plans and goals would allow offers of assistance to be timely.
  • The CRC could assist in finding buyers for businesses.
  • The CRC could purchase transitional properties and improve them for sale or market them to desirable new ventures.
  • The CRC could sponsor consulting services that would help a transitioning business make themselves more marketable.

Promote Viable Businesses: Often small business owners are too busy just keeping the doors open to even know what help is available. This goes along with the previous transition assistance with the CRC providing a clearing house of resources available to small businesses:

  • Provide explanations and assistance in obtaining appropriate tax abatements.
    • What is the difference between a Real Property Tax Abatement and a Personal Property Tax Abatement.
  • Provide explanations on TIF Districts and how to access those dollars.
  • Provide information on Facade Grants.
  • Provide contacts for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
  • Provide contacts for mentoring programs such as SCORE.
  • Provide information and contacts on student assistance available through local schools.
  • Provide information and contacts on student assistance available through local colleges.
  • Provide information and contacts on State training dollars.
  • Provide information and contacts on State intern programs.

I’m sure there are lots of other things and the new commission members will have come in with their own goals. That said, the CRC is a group that always has a lot of potential for making positive changes in Culver. I hope the new group takes that mission seriously and is able to make things happen. From the brief introductions, I think they are.

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