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Oak Ridge mall

Enhancing housing in Oak Ridge

Building at Kareday ApartmentsQuestion 4 from the Progress PAC is about housing. My responses are below. For blog posting, I’ve inserted a couple of hyperlinks into the plain-text response that I provided to the PAC.

Question: Healthy housing is important to a healthy community. What three specific actions would you take to enhance housing in the city?


Three actions:

1. We need greater demand for housing in Oak Ridge in order to stimulate investment in housing. The marketing study (and its followup) that I mentioned in response to question 2 is an important step toward building demand for housing in Oak Ridge. Increased investment in existing neighborhoods, particularly in the central part of the city, is particularly important. The plans to redevelop the mall property as “Main Street Oak Ridge” should make a contribution to stimulating demand for homes, particularly in the center of the city.

2. Owners and buyers of existing homes are in need of practical assistance and financial resources so that Oak Ridge homes from the 1940s through the 1970s (the majority of our housing) will have greater appeal to the next generation of homeowners. To help with this, I recently contributed many hours of my time to a cooperative initiative that developed a grant proposal to TVA to obtain funds for “extreme energy makeovers” on about 300 older homes in lower-income neighborhoods in Oak Ridge. If the proposal is successful, this program will reduce living costs for some lucky residents (more…)


Mall site TIF is a partnership to achieve community goals

cityseal This is a letter to the editor that I submitted to The Oak Ridge Observer on Tuesday. The editorial it responds to (expressing support for plans for mall redevelopment and tax increment financing to help pay for it) isn’t online, but the free paper is still on newsstands:

To the editor:

I thoroughly agree with the headline of your editorial of October 31, which declared “We vote ‘Yes!’” for the mall redevelopment plan and the proposal for tax incremental financing (TIF) to help pay for it. This is an extremely important project to revitalize Oak Ridge’s commercial core – something that has been needed for years. The TIF mechanism is a good way for the city and county to help the project financially without borrowing money or putting public assets at risk. The entire community should vote “Yes!”

I can’t agree, however, with your description of the TIF as a “discount” or an “incentive.” The TIF is not about enticing businesses to build stores in Oak Ridge. (Retailers should want to be here because they can make money selling products and services to local consumers. Not only do Oak Ridgers clamor for more retail, but we have some attractive demographics – like median household income 21 percent above the state average.)

This TIF isn’t about “discounting” Oak Ridge to attract business. It’s about local government leveraging its resources (specifically, the ability to collect property tax) to enable a private developer to help the city accomplish the critically important public objective of revitalizing our city’s commercial core (the mall site). It’s possible that an investor could have bought the mall site and reused it without the help of a TIF, but the community wouldn’t be happy with the kinds of uses that might possibly be commercially viable without the extra help. This proposed TIF starts a public-private partnership aimed at achieving our community’s goals for the mall site as well as the developer’s business goals. Here’s hoping it succeeds for both sides of the partnership!

Ellen Smith