One Albany city commissioner believes fining the owners of empty buildings in downtown Albany could help spark revitalization there. Planners say empty storefronts throughout downtown could become thriving businesses. But they say some property owners are reluctant to make improvements or lease them out.
Some say the city's pulse lies within downtown's streets. "It's absolutely the heartbeat of any community. If your heart is not healthy, your community is not healthy," B. J. Fletcher, City Commissioner.
Fletcher says empty buildings could be keeping new businesses from moving in. "Those buildings have no plumbing, no flooring, no electrical, no nothing. They just have a facade outside," said Fletcher.
The downtown manager says 12 properties are ready to be leased, but 23 others aren't usable without major work. "That does pose an issue when you've got buildings that either historically have been warehouses over the years, or have just not been maintained," said Aaron Blair, Downtown Manager.
Owning one of those buildings could soon carry extra costs. "We've got a downtown manager that says his biggest challenge is to get landlords motivated. Well, I'm gonna put in front of this commission to get them motivated by creating a vacancy tax. And as long as that building stays empty, there will be a tax created on that building," said Fletcher.
She said many property owners are holding out for offers from big companies, and are reluctant to settle for local opportunities. "I just say lets give them a little bit of motivation," Fletcher said.
Aaron Blair is hesitant to support a fine or tax. He said building partnerships between landowners and developers will spark revitalization in downtown Albany. But focusing on surrounding neighborhoods could play a key role in moving downtown forward.
"Because as suburban sprawl is gone, everything's corroded from the core out," said Blair. "So you've gotta really focus in on some of those neighborhoods, stabilize those neighborhoods. That way the closest demand for services is gonna be downtown most likely."
Other leaders say the city should repair roads like the Broad Avenue underpass to improve downtown access and stimulate growth. "I just don't understand why we're so focused on downtown. I realize it's good to do, but we gotta get downtown," said Bobby Coleman, City Commissioner. Leaders say pushing through the challenges will kick revitalization into overdrive.
Fletcher says the commission should take action to support the downtown manager's revitalization efforts. She plans to further discuss her proposal after the city manager completes the budget.