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Victorville seeks public’s assistance in Old Town revitalization effort

Victorville is looking for some help in its effort to restore its Old Town, something it’s been trying to achieve for nearly 30 years.

The city is asking for “qualified community members” to serve on its Community Revitalization and Investment Authority Board, which the High Desert town is forming as a way to revitalize Old Town.

Applicants must live or work in the area covered by the Old Town investment authority. Old Town is a 428-acre parcel that runs mostly parallel to Interstate 15. Route 66 bisects the project area, according to the Old Town Victorville Specific Plan.

That document spells out in great detail how the city (pop: 142,270) hopes to transform Old Town into a “mixed-use focal point” for commercial and residential development, not only for Victorville but the High Desert region.

Adopted in 1995, the specific plan was revised three years ago to include the area along Seventh Street, which is south of the traditional Old Town core, and north of the railroad tracks owned and operated by BNSF.

Its revised borders are Interstate 15 on the northwest, the Oro Grande Wash on the east, Highway 18 on the southeast and Mojave Drive and Verde streets on the south.

“The Old Town Specific Plan represents a blueprint for growth over the next 20-30 years,” the document reads. “Its purpose is to serve as a tool for the revitalization of Old Town, presenting an opportunity to transform this district into a unique, vibrant, mixed-use focal point for the region.”

The plan advocates higher-density, mixed-use development in the project area. This will help bring housing to Old Town that will accommodate some of the population growth that is expected there during the next two to three decades.

It also encourages new businesses and jobs to locate in Old Town, and puts in place guidelines that Victorville officials hope will lead the development of a “pedestrian-oriented” business and shopping district.

The investment authority board will be made of three council members and two at-large members from the community. Thirty applications had been submitted for an at-large position as of June 19, 11 days before the application deadline, said Sue Jones, Victorville’s public information officer.

Old Town is, in effect, Victorville’s downtown, and giving the area new life is vital to the city’s economic future, according to Jones.

“Our Old Town is unique and full of history, and its  revitalization  is one of the most asked about issues raised by our community,” Jones said in an email interview. “It was ‘downtown’ for all of the Victor Valley, up until about 50 years ago, when commercial expansion swept through the High Desert.

“The area is worth reinvesting in, and many cities have been successful with making their old town/historic areas thrive again.”

Victorville is reportedly the first city in California to form an investment authority. The city can learn much from Temecula. Lancaster and even Pasadena, all of which have transformed the old towns into thriving commercial destinations, said Joseph Brady, president of The Bradco Cos. In Victorville.

“All three of those places have turned out very well,” said Brady, whose company is one of the largest and best-known commercial real estate developers in the High Desert. “I think Victorville could get a lot of good ideas from all of them.”

Victorville’s Old Town plans are a “great idea” that the city is undertaking at the right time, according to Brady.

“You can have a great plan, but if the timing isn’t right nothing good will happen,” Brady said. “But with the growth we expect to see up here in the next 20 years, I think the timing is right for this project.”

Victorville officials won’t have a difficult time getting recommendations from their residents about what should be done with Old Town, according to Brady.

“I hear people talking about it, and I know that they want to see this happen,” said Brady. “There are people up here who want to invest their money in Old Town Victorville.”

Ten years ago, Old Town Victorville might have undergone changes, if then-Gov, Jerry Brown had not eliminated redevelopment, the popular program used by local governments to attract commercial development and revive downtrodden parts of their communities.

That action came without warning, and it derailed Victorville’s Old Town restoration plans immediately, Jones said.

But in 2015 the Community Revitalization Investment Authority was formed, which in time, will generate the funds need to restore Old Town Victorville.

CRIA, as its commonly known, is based on tax increment financing, in which developers and businesses build, and then improve on, properties in the investment area.

Over time, those properties will get a higher appraised value, which results in greater property tax assessments and more tax revenue collected by the county.

The authority’s primary task will be to make sure that the increased property tax revenue stay in the project area, Jones said.

One reason cities should embrace investment authorities is that they don’t require a new tax. The revenue creates itself, in the form of rising property values within the project area.

Absent redevelopment, which has been gone for 12 years, an investment authority might be the best way for a city to undertake a project as large as Victorville’s Old Town revitalization.

“We consider the CRIA to be the replacement of redevelopment funding,” Jones said. “Redevelopment also used tax increment funding to spur redevelopment.”

For now Victorville will keep trying to persuade businesses to locate in Old Town, and it will try to persuade San Bernardino County to participate in the investment authority, something city officials hope will happen by the end of the year.

If both the City and County contribute all of their tax increment, the area could receive up to $900,000,000 over 45 years, Jones said.

“Revitalizing Old Town is something the community has been asking about for a long time, and we’e going to do it,” Jones said,  “But It’s a long process, and people have to be educated about how it works.”

 

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