Think about “redevelopment” for a minute and what it means to you.
Wikipedia defines redevelopment as new construction on a site that has pre-existing uses, urban infill on vacant parcels that have no existing activity but were previously developed or adaptive reuse of a site or building.
All of these definitions, and probably yours, too, cast it as an active word that implies a vision of renewal and growth.
The public purposes of a redevelopment plan are many: to change underutilized land or buildings into land uses that give landowners and the community attractive and well-utilized assets; to eliminate unsafe building conditions, crime areas, informal dumps and other hazards these sites may encourage; to develop housing, stores and other uses that help the community build a stronger economic base.
In Texas, communities have many tools to assist in redevelopment. One is the ability to create a redevelopment authority. In Galveston, city officials created the Galveston Island Redevelopment Authority — known as the RDA — which was incorporated with the secretary of state in 2002.
The stated purposes of the RDA were, first “to promote, develop, encourage, and maintain housing, employment, commerce, transportation, and economic development in the city,” and second “to administer, manage, and supervise economic development vehicles and tools implemented by or on behalf of the city.”
The RDA, however, has been used almost exclusively to oversee the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones — or TIRZs — a function generally performed by a city council. TIRZs, remember, are independent boards that control how new tax dollars created by new development (including redevelopment) are spent within their boundaries. The RDA has focused its time and efforts on the supervision purpose, and while that role is still valuable and necessary, it is time to look forward to its other purposes and goals.
The RDA should be developing overall island redevelopment policy, on a broader basis. The RDA can help coordinate TIRZ policies and make sure that the TIRZ boards are not acting at cross-purposes with one another.
The RDA could take on projects outside the TIRZ boundaries that would contribute to the redevelopment of North Broadway and assist the city in the prompt demolition of blighted structures remaining after Hurricane Ike. The RDA can establish programs to assist owners to retrofit and redevelop existing properties and provide infill development and neighborhood improvements that benefit residents and businesses alike. All are possibilities and should be goals of the RDA.
The vision and direction of the RDA has been narrowly focused and lacking direction and innovation. It is always easy to assign blame and look backward. The goal should be to look forward and create opportunity. Think of “redevelopment” and think of the possibilities.
David Hoover lives in Galveston and has a background as a city planner and economic developer.