On Tuesday evening, the city council unanimously approved a new tool to jump start large-scale downtown revitalization efforts. By a vote of 6-0, the council gave the green light to the Downtown Infill Infrastructure Incentive Program that will provide reimbursements for infrastructure improvements that are tied to major downtown investments.
The program was presented by Economic Development Director Micah Runner who explained that the program aligns with existing city priorities of incentivizing development in Downtown Stockton. Runner mentioned that while several other “tools” exist to nudge businesses and investment downtown, this new program focuses on large scale investments. Runner also argued that the program addresses a key barrier to successful downtown development: the costly replacement of aging infrastructure.
Specifically, any project with at least 35 market rate residential units or 30,000 square feet of retail or commercial will have access to city funding for infrastructure improvements tied to that specific project. This could include items such as streetscaping, bike lanes, sidewalk improvements and utility enhancements that occur within a specific boundary in the greater downtown area—Center Street to the west, Park Street to the north, Highway 4 to the south and the railroad tracks to the east. The program will reimburse applicants up to $900,000 per year for expenses tied to these infrastructure upgrades. Funding will come from a variety of sources such as capital improvement funds, CDBG money and other federal and state grant opportunities.
The act of paying for infill infrastructure is fairly routine in other cities. The 2012 Urban Land Institute report for Downtown Stockton suggested that the city make such an investment and the Environmental Protection Agency recently mentions infrastructure upgrades as a best practice for cities looking to spur infill development. What makes Stockton’s program unique, however, is that the city will require a major investment in downtown before approving city dollars to these upgrades. Most cities will make public infill improvements without any guarantee that development will follow, but Stockton has taken this concept a step further, designing this new program to ensure that any public money spent on infrastructure improvements will have to also come with an assurance that a major investment will be made in downtown.
Council members were strongly supportive of the program as evidenced by the unanimous vote (Councilman Moses Zapien was not present). Mayor Silva praised Runner for thinking innovatively about ways to jump start investment in downtown, saying that he believes people will eventually turn to Stockton as an example of a city that was able to completely turn around their downtown.
While the new program will certainly be welcome for developers, it could also help entice large companies to locate in the downtown area as well. If a potential company with a need for 30,000 square feet of space considers Stockton as a potential site, the prospect of city funding to spruce up an existing building or construct a whole new one is quite attractive.