Ald. Bridget Maniaci is worried about the James Madison Park neighborhood in her district. For years, its old homes have mostly been used for student rentals, which are a bit worse for wear. Now that students are living more in high-rise developments closer to campus, she sees an opportunity.
"We can either do something and get people to reinvest in the neighborhood," she says, "or you'll see what we did on Johnson Street, people tearing down 11 houses and building something new."
To encourage the neighborhood's renovation, Maniaci would like to declare the area between East Washington Avenue and Gorham, Butler and Blount streets a redevelopment district.
Don Marx, with the city's planning department, says the city would first have to deem that at least half of the properties are blighted. "It could be a very liberal interpretation of blight," he says. "For instance, if a house needed new shingles, that could be considered blight."
A redevelopment district would give the Community Development Authority the power to float bonds and acquire property for the purpose of redevelopment or blight reduction, Marx says. Often, this means tearing houses down and rebuilding, as happened on Allied Drive.
But Maniaci would like to see a kinder, gentler redevelopment district, which preserves the current structures. "We can use the redevelopment district in a smart way and target a couple of blocks," she says. "In many ways this neighborhood is where the Bassett neighborhood was 15 years ago."
Bassett was redeveloped with small-cap tax increment financing, providing forgivable home-improvement loans of up to $60,000, says Joe Gromacki, the city's TIF coordinator. The James Madison Park neighborhood isn't currently in a TIF district, but Maniaci is hoping it will be, if the State Street TIF district is expanded to include the Edgewater Hotel.
Either way, Maniaci is seeking the city's help. "There's great potential in this neighborhood for families and young couples or older couples who want to live downtown," she says. "The houses need work, but they're not unsalvageable."