March 21, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 11

Planners endorse downtown committee

The Haines Borough Planning Commission voted unanimously last week that the Downtown Revitalization Committee should become an ad hoc committee that acts as an advisory group to the commission.

Commission chair Rob Goldberg said the Mayor would appoint seven members to the committee, including one planning commission member, one Haines Chamber of Commerce member, a representative of the Chilkoot Indian Association, one downtown resident and three downtown business owners.

Mayor Stephanie Scott said she put the matter on the commission’s agenda following conversations with revitalization committee chair Lenise Henderson Fontenot and commission chair Rob Goldberg.

Henderson Fontenot told the CVN last month that she would call a meeting of the revitalization committee to be attended by Scott and Earnest, but the plan for a meeting apparently changed following a series of emails between Henderson Fontenot, Goldberg and Scott.

Henderson Fontenot said this week she couldn’t remember what she said in the exchange or who initiated it. “The end result is it’s out of my hands and into the mayor’s hands right now.”

“Lenise thought (the committee) would work better if it had some kind of structure,” Scott recalled. “I asked the planning commission to allow the borough to appoint a committee that would answer to it. It’s really a planning commission discussion to bring that together.”

The revitalization committee in June voted to seek to come under the borough’s wing.

As an ad hoc committee under the planning commission, the downtown group would have a formalized voting procedure, clear lines of authority and record-keeping, Scott said. It would make recommendations to the planning committee.

“The idea in my mind is that ideas that emerge need to be thoroughly examined and discussed. I’m looking for a place for those discussions to take place,” Scott said. “The problem is the (previous) group had no way of coming to a decision because they had no structure.”

Placing the group under the planning commission “assumes” a level of staff support from the borough, Scott said.

The revitalization committee was formed in January 2011 as the borough’s follow-up to its $40,000 downtown revitalization plan, completed in 2010.

Earnest appointed Henderson Fontenot to gather a group that would pursue implementing recommendations of the plan. MRV Architects, the Juneau firm that wrote the plan, in April 2010 identified eight immediate priorities for a revitalization effort, including:

1) Formalizing a downtown improvement district and hiring a half-time staff person; 2) Working with the state Department of Transportation on funded improvements and starting discussion of future Main Street improvements; 3) Dedicating a local revenue source to get started; 4) Upgrading signage into town; 5) Starting a building improvement grant program; 6) Establishing a buy-local campaign, 7) Starting a downtown assistance program, and 8) Seeking funding for streetscape infrastructure.

Some of the items on the priority list were pursued. The Haines Chamber of Commerce, which was active on the committee, launched a shop-at-home effort in 2011 and the Haines Borough spent $80,000 or more improving signage in the downtown core. The group also identified the geographic boundaries of an area to revitalize.

Henderson Fontenot said last month that the volunteer nature of the effort has taken a toll. “Everybody in our group is busy running businesses. Like anything that runs solely on volunteer time, it’s harder… (But) the basic need for (the committee) has not gone away.”

Group membership had been open to all comers.