On February 22 we held our first Downtown Neighborhood meeting of the year. As always, there was great participation with nearly 70 attendees.
The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on several key issues and learn more about the proposed City Charter changes in the March voter referendum. (Our voting recommendations are below.)
The search for an experienced consultant to guide the master planning process for the waterfront/park/bluff is still underway. Once a consultant is selected, we’re facing up to 30 months for the entire process to be finalized, including the referendum to get public approval on the final master plan. Yup, it’s a long time. But this project is complicated to say the least.
This Year Is Critical
The first 12 months of the planning process will be devoted to brainstorming and public input. We will be crucial to the process if we play our cards right, which means that we need to be engaged and informed every step of the way. No problem! That’s why our Association exists.
CMA Plans for Downtown
The notion of permanently expanding into downtown is completely off the table. Instead, CMA is embarking on a $45 million expansion in Island Estates. They plan to break ground in August. If funding goes as planned, it will be a 30-month project.
As much as we want the Harborview to disappear tomorrow, we have to face an unpleasant reality. It looks like demolition is at least 30 months away. Why? There are two reasons. First, the City Council is extremely reluctant to make such a drastic change until there a master plan that has been approved by voters in a public referendum. Understandable, given past failures. Second, CMA has no other viable option for their Dolphin Tale exhibit until their new facility is completed.
Look at the Bright Side
A lot of good things are happening downtown. Just yesterday there was a major downtown clean-up project involving more than 80 volunteers. The Skyview condo building is progressing fast. The Nolen apartments are springing up even faster. New restaurants have opened and more shops and dining options are being heavily recruited. The Church of Scientology continues its grand renovation projects. In other words, downtown is attracting investment, which will only grow in scope.
So What Can We Do to Speed Things Up?
First and foremost, we must continue to attend and participate in any and all upcoming Neighborhood Association meetings and the City’s Master Planning Forums. Our energy and engagement have a tremendous impact, more than we know.
And we can vote to remove some of the small but frustrating barriers in the City Charter that tie the hands of the City in bringing more activity to the waterfront area.
The Referendum on March 15
Last year a study was done by the 13-member Charter Review Committee and they came up with nearly 20 recommendations. The City Council voted to move forward on a number of them that could have a significant impact on downtown’s plans. The public will vote on these Referendum Questions on March 15.
At our meeting, Brian Aungst, Jr., the Chair of the Charter Review Committee, explained the reasoning behind the proposed changes. He did a great job in clearing up misinformation, answering questions, and putting us at ease that the changes are safe and worthwhile. From all indications, the vast majority of the residents in attendance are planning to vote Yes on the questions, particularly the ones (5, 6 & 7) that directly affect downtown.
If you’re not voting by mail, the polling location on March 15 for downtown residents (districts 511 and 512) is the Main Library.
Please stay tuned to this station for more information!