By Deb Murphy
Monday’s Bishop City Council workshop was to focus on a proposed property value protection ordinance, but the civilians who addressed the council came up with other ways to solve the issue of far too many vacant store fronts in the downtown core.
City Administrator Jim Tatum and Associate Planner Elaine Kabala explained the city’s concept of an ordinance was not punitive, rather a way to encourage property owners to do something to erase a semi-blighted look to downtown.
According to Kabala, 22 storefronts are vacant on Line, Warren and Main streets. Fourteen of those are actively for sale or rent, the balance seem to be used for storage. Most were owned by local residents.
Kabala summarized those vacancies: some were in good condition but unrealistically priced, others were too big or in bad shape. The old Main Street Kmart site accounted for almost half of the 130,000 square feet of empty. Plus, the lease is protective of Vons, the owner.
Many of the speakers stressed the cost to bring the older buildings up to code. As Tatum described it: there are 1940 buildings competing in a 2017 world.
Another issue was the lack of smaller sites for business start-ups. An idea that had a lot of traction was to take a storefront like the former JCPenney, gut it, put in ADA-compliant restrooms and subdivide into smaller cubicles.
Amanda Kavanis of Nakid Imagination, an outdoor-focused t-shirt business, does all her selling online, but the idea of a hundred-square-feet plus cubicle was appealing. “The size of some of the available spaces are intimidating and challenging,” she said. “The square foot rate is reasonable” but the size puts the locations out of range.
Gigi De Jong and several others involved in the arts liked the idea of developing a showcase for artists. A former ballet instructor who taught through the city’s Parks and Rec. program, De Jong explained that other teachers were fighting for space to conduct their classes. One solution was for the city to lease downtown space so activities and classes could be expanded.
A three business owner, Cindy Meinke Schoener looked into renting one of the currently vacant spaces but the cost to bring the site up to code was prohibitive.
“The solutions won’t come from a government ordinance,” said Robin Bolser, owner of Great Basin Bakery. “Ideas have to come from the community. To survive we have to get creative.”
Stan Smith of Pleasant Valley Realty suggested the city take the workshop to the real estate, property owner, banking and private investor communities. Tatum said the intent was to hold additional workshops. “Is it important enough for those communities to come here?” he asked.
Following public input, Mayor Pro-Tem Karen Schwartz agreed the community could solve the problem. “We have people with businesses, we have the space. There’s just a disconnect. We have to bring everyone together and come up with creative solutions.”
The next workshop is scheduled for the Council’s January 8 meeting.