An ambitious plan to invest $10 million in the 18th & Vine Jazz District could be the jolt of momentum the historic neighborhood needs.
But a lack of input from key stakeholders is a red a flag — and a cause for concern that could derail this effort.
On Wednesday, City Councilman Jermaine Reed will announce the second part of a three-phase plan that would ultimately pump more than $27 million into the jazz district. Reed will propose spending $4 million from a citywide sales tax for public improvements, known as the PIAC tax, in the area near 18th and Vine and another $3 million from PIAC funds dedicated to the 3rd District he represents.
Reed also wants to use $3 million of the revenue generated by the East Side sales tax to fund improvements in the jazz district. But the councilman has done little of the necessary legwork to solicit input from and build consensus among members of the board overseeing the East Side levy, which is formally known as the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax.
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Voters approved the one-eighth-cent sales tax for improvements near the Prospect Avenue corridor last year. It’s expected to generate about $10 million annually for 10 years to revitalize struggling neighborhoods on the East Side.
The jazz district falls within the boundaries for the sales tax, which is supposed to provide a boost to new and existing businesses. But inexplicably, the board installed to provide recommendations for allocating the money has not been consulted in the crafting of a plan to spend $3 million in East Side funds.
Reed said that board members would eventually have a chance to approve the plan if the city’s finance committee and full council give the go-ahead.
But why didn’t Reed and other city officials include them in initial discussions?
“We would take the request through the normal process,” Reed said. “The request would not come until next year’s cycle with spacing over several years. We think it would have a minimal impact (on the $100 million generated by the sales tax).”
Central City Sales Tax District Board Chairman Herb Harwick and Vice Chair Melissa Patterson Hazley said they will need more information before making any decisions about Reed’s proposal.
The city has already spent $7 million in capital improvement sales tax dollars to stabilize buildings, complete streetscape improvements on 18th Street and begin work on the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center.
Those were worthy investments. About $44 million in private development has followed. But questions remain about funding sources for the second phase, which includes completing renovations of the Buck O’Neil Center and improvements to The American Jazz Museum and the Gem Theater.
Upgrades at the intersection of 18th and The Paseo and the construction of a $2.8 million Gateway Plaza are also under consideration.
There’s no doubt that the city should invest in the 18th & Vine District, a unique attraction that has yet to realize its full potential.
But the community must be part of the conversation.
The East Side sales tax is aimed at bolstering neighborhoods that had been overlooked for too long. Before proceeding with plans for 18th and Vine, Reed and other city leaders need to ensure that tax district board members have a seat at the table — and a say in how these funds are spent.