Vermillion’s downtown improvement project will receive additional city funding, but the amount depends on final bids.
At Monday night’s meeting, the council approved a resolution providing more than the current $1.33 million allocated in city funds. The resolution doesn’t include a specific amount.
In an interview after the meeting, City Manager John Prescott said the project may cost an estimated $2.4 million. Downtown property owners within Business Improvement District #2 (BID#2) would pay a special assessment of 20 percent, or a total of $450,000, over a 10-year period.
Given those figures, the project would need an additional $620,000 in city funds. The actual amount could change depending on the final bids.
“How much of that gap they are going to fill is one of the things that still needs to be defined,” Prescott said. “The council has decided it is willing to go beyond the $1.33 million toward the project cost, but not necessarily the full amount of the gap.”
However, the resolution does show the council’s intent to provide more funds heading into public meetings during the next month, he said. They include a June 20 meeting at the City Council chambers starting at 7 p.m.
“We’re trying to figure out how to move the discussion along,” the city manager said. “We’re having a June 20 public meeting with the property owners, where they can hear our plans and we can get their reaction.”
So far, the city has committed $1 million from the second penny sales tax, $250,000 from the electric fund for street lights and $80,000 from the storm water fee fund storm water improvements.
“That $1.3 million is money in the bank and is already pledged,” Prescott said.
The project would meet a number of needs for downtown Vermillion, Prescott said. The improvements would address pedestrian and traffic safety, more efficient lighting and an updated downtown appearance.
“The super aggressive schedule would have construction taking place in 2020. That means plans and specifications will be needed this year. Right now, we have a conceptual design,” he said.
“Looking at 2021 for construction is very realistic. If we can get the legs on this (project), it will happen sooner rather than later. We anticipate this will happen in one construction season. It might need the entire construction season.”
In 2016, the City hired Confluence to prepare a conceptual plan for a downtown infrastructure — or streetscape — project. Some features include bumpouts at pedestrian intersections, new sidewalks, trees, landscaping, seat walls, new street lighting and other improvements.
“The downtown street lights needs to be replaced and converted to LED lights, like the rest of the community,” Prescott said.
The lighting project should be seen as an investment and not as an expense, according to Assistant City Manager James Purdy.
“The new LED lighting will be part of our (emphasis on) renewable energy,” he said. “This will cut our energy costs and save the city money in the long run.”
The bumpouts will reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians, Purdy said. Studies show bumpouts tend to produce lower average traffic speeds at those spots, he added.
The feature is designed to provide greater safety at those intersections without interfering with traffic, he said. “It won’t reduce the street by one inch,” he added.
The downtown project has been under discussion for three years.
The conceptual design for the downtown infrastructure improvements was drawn up in 2016, but the idea didn’t gain traction, Prescott said.
“The plan really didn’t generate a lot of support because of the lack of public funding,” he said. “At that time, it was an estimated $2.7 million project.”
However, renewed interest was expressed the next year. The council allocated $1 million in the 2018 budget for the project. The money went unused, so the $1 million was carried forward to the 2019 budget.
The BID #2 boundaries were formed in 2018 to study ways to fund the potential project. The district also developed an updated proposal for the City Council and community to consider.
The BID board consists of four downtown property owners and one downtown resident, Purdy said.
The streetscaping project carried an initial cost estimate of $2.7 million. In response, the BID board made changes to pare down the cost. The board reduced the amount of work on Elm, Center, Prospect, the west end of Main Street, Court and Church streets.
The lower estimated cost makes the project more attractive, Prescott said. However, he warned against making too many cuts.
“Would we be bringing it down to where we don’t feel like we made a difference?” he asked. “And what is left for Phase 2? What if it doesn’t get done?”
After the June 20 meeting, the process includes a July 1 BID report to the city council; July 15 city council consideration of a resolution of intent; a Sept. 3 first reading of the ordinance creating BID #2; and a Sept. 16 second reading of the ordinance creating BID #2.
“After this happens, we can go to bid,” Purdy said. “We’ve already had companies who have heard about this project and have come to us and inquired about it.”
The streetscaping project represents a major step toward creating a more attractive downtown atmosphere, Prescott said.
“This is the kind of space for young professionals, university students and faculty who want the amenities of looking for in a downtown,” he said. “It’s pedestrian and user friendly. We see this as an investment to maintain a viable downtown.”
Purdy pointed to the city’s plans for an electric vehicle charging station as a similar idea.
“The word routinely tossed around is ‘destination,’” he said. “It’s about making downtown Vermillion more of a destination.”
However, Prescott noted the changes won’t greatly alter the current downtown look or vibe. Plans for continuing the current theme and feel, he said.
“People have a passion for the amenities, and that helps make a community,” he said. “The big advantage is that the last major changes (for downtown) came in the 1970s. I think it’s time to freshen it up and make things more attractive.”
Purdy agreed. “We don’t want to mess with Vermillion’s charm,” he said.
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