CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Folks who read the draft Downtown Redevelopment Plan for Charleston that was unveiled last week might suffer a case of déjà vu.
Among its "big ideas," the plan calls for setting up a business improvement district in the urban core centered on Capitol Street, with a downtown management authority to look after the interests of property owners and merchants.
It also targets the pedestrian corridor between Charleston Town Center and Capitol Street -- including Slack Plaza and Brawley Walkway -- for a massive makeover.
And throughout the plan, for these and other projects, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority (CURA) is expected to play a major role.
Turn the clock back 25 or 35 years, and you'll find that CURA managed a Downtown Urban Renewal Plan for the urban core. The Charleston Downtown Association (a.k.a. the Downtown Merchants Association or the Downtown Business Association) helped organize chili cook-offs, sidewalk sales and Christmas parades until its demise in 1997.
You can find CURA's imprint all across downtown -- from the mall to Haddad Park, from Capitol Market to the Embassy Suites hotel. Now the agency will be called on to lead again.
"The urban renewal agency did have a downtown urban renewal district and plan, which expired in 2008," said Jim Edwards, who took over the reins at CURA last year, bringing a preference for preservation over clearance.
"Since that time there has been no active effort [in downtown]. We do have the Smith Street/Shrewsbury Street Plan, which is nearby. Even though that was renewed in 2005, it dates back to the ''80s, so the bulk of it is out of date.
"One of the roles we can play is to use the downtown [redevelopment] plan as a basis for a new urban renewal plan, and get back into the redevelopment of downtown." Board members have already been talking about reestablishing such a district," Edwards said. "Obviously, we have resources; we have funds that we can't use right now in downtown, and we have a full-time staff. We can certainly play a part."
Although neither the downtown plan or the broader comprehensive plan is in effect yet, as both are in the final comment stage, it's likely the City Council will adopt them close to their current form.
"One of the major recommendations is to create a management authority and a business improvement district that would provide full force attention to the needs of the downtown district," Edwards said.
Many cities have adopted business improvement districts to rebuild their downtowns, said plan author Craig Gossman from his office with MKSK in Covington, Ky. "It's not something we invented.
"It's linked to a district: This is area that's included in the BID (business improvement district) and the land that's included; 60 percent of the property owners would have to agree to participate."
While an existing group like CURA or the Charleston Area Alliance might organize the district, Gossman said a new coalition focused specifically on downtown -- a management authority -- might do the job.
In any case, the BID would be a quasi-governmental group that would set up its own bylaws and rules for operation.