Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Downtown Chandler business grants questioned

[Source: Luci Scott, Arizona Republic] -- Taxpayer-funded business grants have been a key factor in the redevelopment of downtown Chandler's historic buildings, but now the city is considering changes following complaints about how the grants are distributed. Grant amounts have varied. For example, the SanTan Brewing Co., a popular brew pub and restaurant that opened last year, received $100,000 in taxpayer money through the Downtown Improvement Fund. Sushi Eye in Motion, Art on Boston, Urban Tea Loft, and the yet-to-open sushi restaurant KiZake each received $50,000.

Dick Mulligan, director of economic development, confirmed that his department is working on changes to the DIF program, but he isn't making the proposals public yet. "It's premature to lay it out," Mulligan said. "We haven't put together a draft."

The proposals need to be presented to the City Council's economic development subcommittee before they go to the council, he said. "And we've got to interface with a lot of stakeholders," Mulligan said.

Councilman Jeff Weninger has complained that taxpayers and tenants contribute to building improvements that benefit the owners, but owners are not required to contribute. However, some landlords voluntarily do. "Without this kind of financial help, the tenants, the mom-and-pop businesses most likely would not open a business downtown," said Niels Kreipke, a developer and a downtown landlord who has contributed to tenant improvements. From fiscal year 2002-03 through 2007-08, the city distributed $601,859 from the DIF. Private investment during that time totaled more than $2.4 million.