Make sure master plan is what downtown Danville wants

Published 4:33 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Danville has an opportunity available to it in the form of a prospective “opportunity zone” investor, who might invest in a large business project downtown — if the city completes a master plan for development of the central downtown area.

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It’s a lottery ticket of sorts. It’s a chance — not a guarantee — that an unknown group could spend an unspecified amount of money on an unspecified project. The only thing we know is that the investor is concerned about how traffic flow might develop in the center of town over the coming years.

That’s a whole lot of gray area. This project could become an economic driver that sparks a golden age for Main Street. It could be a high-flying idea that ultimately crashes and burns. It could be anywhere in between. Because of that, leaders should be cautious in how they proceed.

If Danville does develop a downtown master plan, it cannot be just so that the city might get the opportunity zone investor. It must be because officials look into what a downtown master plan could accomplish and determine that it would benefit the city whether or not the investor ever materializes. The opportunity zone chance must be treated as a cherry on top, not the whole enchilada.

It would be wise to completely set aside the possible project. Consider instead what Danville already has in its downtown, what improvements could be possible, and how the city might — as a community, not a group of elected officials forcing taxpayers along — get to that possibility.

If the answer that comes out of those questions is to form a downtown master plan, great. Maybe that choice selected by the downtown community will also give Danville a shot at something truly amazing. But if that big fish doesn’t bite, the community will still have something it decided would be beneficial for its own future.

The answer could be something else — leave downtown alone, perhaps; or some other plan of action that doesn’t involve a master plan but has the potential to benefit existing businesses and/or attract others. In that case, the community doesn’t get its lottery ticket chance at millions, but it still wins by upgrading its future successes on its own terms.

The losing choice is to pursue a downtown master plan as a hoop to jump through, as the cost of buying that lottery ticket. That puts all of Danville’s chances of success or failure in someone else’s hands. It would be especially bad to pursue the master plan if the downtown community doesn’t get on-board. It would actually make the lottery ticket less likely to pay out, because the master plan this huge project would supposedly be depending on for its own success wouldn’t have the full backing and buy-in of the community.