Citizens want to involve the entire community in deciding which city properties will be considered for a redevelopment assessment grant.
It was the first public meeting concerning the Environmental Protection Agency”s Brownfields Assessment Grant the city plans to apply for. And citizens who attended Wednesday reached one consensus: The entire community should be apart of the discussion on which properties are of interest for potential development.
“We have to communicate with people on all different levels,” Susie Shelton of Columbus said.
The Rev. Steve Jamison, pastor of Maranatha Faith Center in Columbus, proposed using churches to reach the African-American communities.
“I think to localize your search for participants to one side of the city is a mistake,” he said.
Mary Peek of Columbus suggested forming a committee of concerned and educated citizens to spread the word.
With the application deadline in November, Columbus resident Ted Gardner suggested using local media and the city council wards to inform people of the possible grant opportunity as quickly as possible.
“Everyone knows the key people (in each ward),” Gardner said, “and those people in the area know the history of their area.”
Trey Hess, Mississippi Brownfields program coordinator, defined a “brownfield” as a commercial property no longer in use that would interest a potential developer, but has uncertainties on whether there are contaminants in the foundation.
“Most brownfields have to do with perceived contamination,” Hess said.
The grant is a zero-match, $400,000 grant, all of which should be spent in three years, Hess said. The city would use the funds for background checks on property to determine previous uses and then an environmental assessment to determine if the property is contaminated or available for development.
“Every city in the state should apply for a grant like this,” Hess said, noting the grant is “very competitive.” Only two out of 12 Mississippi cities that applied received the grant last year. Columbus applied last year but did not receive the grant.
According to Hess, community engagement is required in the application process, and it is attractive to include areas that could benefit from development of areas mentioned in the application. A gas station, for example, could be turned into a thriving coffee shop by a developer, creating jobs and revenue for the city, he offered.
“If you had $100,000 and wanted to open up a coffee shop, where would you do it in your are?,” he asked the crowd. “Be thinking about that.”
According to Interim City Planner Christina Berry, it is a citywide grant and all areas of the city will be considered for assessment.
“We need the whole city to support it,” she said.
Berry said she contacted people concerning the grant through different news outlets, emails and Facebook, and this was the first time the city engaged the community in the grant application.