The one issue that seemed to unite candidates at a Mission forum Thursday night is that something needs to happen at the East Gateway development. Taking criticism from a number of directions was developer Tom Valenti who won council approval in January 2013 for a financing package but has not started substantial development.
Both mayoral candidates, Steve Schowengerdt and Dave Shepard put the Gateway on their list of critical initiatives. Schowengerdt called it the “black hole.” He believes Valenti to be an honest man, he said, but out for himself. “There is a lot of talk, but never any action.” Shepard also said Gateway needs to get going but he believes the development agreement and liens protect the city’s investment.
Council candidates Will Vandenberg and Bill Nichols also were critical of the development process. Vandenberg said the Gateway is a “black eye” for Mission and he just wants to hear it is done or sold to another developer.
Other areas brought different opinions. Schowengerdt and Shepard both listed completing Johnson Drive as a priority, but Schowengerdt said “the private sector is the answer.” If the city really wanted to help, he said, “they would get out of the way and let the private sector take over.” Schowengerdt also contended the city has a “spending problem” and he criticized the form-based code system and what he referred to as the “driveway tax” for being bad for business.
Shepard said the city has taken action when it was necessary to repair infrastructure and avoid blight. When the floodplain was redrawn “we chose to take action.” He said the city’s debt is $42 million, not the $56 million that opponents had contended. That will drop into the 30s by end of the year, he said. “When we have crumbling infrastructure, that would be great if the private sector would step in, but the city has to take care of stormwater and roads,” Shepard said. “When the roof has to be replaced, you have to take action.”
Both mayoral candidates predicted that business investment in Johnson Drive would return after the street is reconstructed. Shepard said overflow parking needs to be provided that will accommodate owners and employees and the city should confer with businesses about regulations for parking along the street. Schowengerdt said downtown will always have a premium on parking and businesses have told him they need employee parking space other than in front of the stores.
Shepard also listed an update of the community vision among his priorities, calling it the “city’s roadmap.” Schowengerdt said getting businesses back on Johnson Drive is a priority.
A full house attended the session, hosted by the Northeast Johnson Chamber of Commerce, at the Sylvester Powell Community Center.
Read more about council candidates later today.