The Downtown Revitalization Committee should untether itself from the Haines Borough.

Downtown revitalization – at its core – is about rebuilding the area around the Main Street corridor into an attractive and functioning commercial district. It has more to do with business than government.

Government plays an important role, including by helping provide planning, infrastructure and legislation that fosters a vibrant downtown. The borough already has provided a plan, a $40,000 downtown revitalization document it paid for. Government also can create pleasing infrastructure, such as improved sidewalks, landscaping, banners, benches and the like, some of which are already in place.

Government can provide property (like the borough has done recently for the Aspen Hotel and Haines Brewing Company projects) to bring businesses into the core. Those efforts have been particularly important as some building and property owners downtown have been unwilling to sell or to ask a salable price.

Borough legislation in the form of incentives or penalties to create a vibrant town core may also be necessary, but would likely be problematic due to the politics involved. Legislation is an effective way of getting things done but should be pursued only when other, friendlier methods of bringing change don’t work.

Government is a big muscle, sometimes necessary to move good ideas forward. But as a brain for generating new ideas, it tends to be slow-moving and less efficient than the private sector. It also can be hijacked by political considerations, as evidenced by a former borough manager’s quiet direction to the previous revitalization committee to back off its opposition to commercial trailers downtown.

The responsibility for visioning a new downtown, hashing out plans, and putting projects in motion that are in the best interest of the commercial district rests most appropriately with the private sector, which should to be leading this effort.

A borough advisory group that must first obtain the approval of the planning commission and borough assembly to take even small actions is too gummed up by procedure to get much done.

The revitalization committee can – and should – petition the government on issues affecting downtown business interests.

As a general rule, the borough government should be receptive to the committee’s efforts, as local sales account for nearly one-fourth of every dollar in the government’s budget. Also, the borough already has skin in the game, a $40,000 downtown plan just waiting to be acted upon.

- Tom Morphet


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