City commission discusses funding for next big move, some offer creative funding strategies

Published 7:23 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2019

As the City of Danville received back eight bids from firms it will consider to help it develop a Downtown Master Plan, the discussion turned to funding the initiative — which may cost up to $95,000.

The aim of the plan is to “facilitate a community planning process that culminates in the development of an urban design, future land use and transportation plan for downtown Danville,” according to the city’s RFP. It will also consist of developing “desired economic activity opportunities, and strategies to implement,” according to City Manager Ron Scott.

Who made the cut

Municipal Utility Engineer Earl Coffey told the city commission Monday night that staff had been in contact with more than 25 consulting firms and received eight proposal submissions before whittling down the list to its top three to recommend, which are Bravura, CityVisions Associates and The Walker Collaborative.

Email newsletter signup

Bravura’s fee schedule is $74,000 for services, with an allowance up to $3,500 for expenses; CityVision gave a range of $75,000-$95,000; and The Walker Collaborative’s fee would be $64,9441, with additional costs of up to $3,000 for map printing expenses.

Coffey said City Manager Ron Scott “assembled us as a small working group,” consisting of other city staff members and Jody Lassiter, CEO and president of the Economic Development Partnership. He said the top three were chosen due to being “highly qualified and representing a diverse set of options” they can offer the city.

Many of the proposals were done as collaborations, he said, listing not only their services, but those of landscape architects they work with, for example.

Coffey said staff now needed direction on how the city commission wished to proceed. “Typically, interviews would occur for a project of this nature,” he said. “City staff can do that with the same committee, or city commission can conduct a workshop-style meeting, have them make presentations …”

Commissioner Kevin Caudill said all three seem very qualified, but “it’s easier when you can see them face-to-face and talk to them.”

“Can we do that, and make sure to get staff input on this?” Mayor Mike Perros said, as far as including staff in on the interviews.

“Brandstetter Carroll didn’t make the cut,” Commissioner Rick Serres said. He said he knows Bravura has experience with the city, but so does Brandstetter. “Want to make any small comment as to why?”

Coffey said the firm just didn’t score the highest number of points, based on the grading scale the working group used. “All the firms — they’re all capable of doing the work in my opinion, just where all eight of them are very qualified and certainly could complete the project.”

However, he said based on looking at the proposals in front of them and the way they were presented, “these three scored the highest.”

‘Is there a volunteer out there?’

Coffey said he will coordinate a day for the interviews to take place.

“While we’re waiting for that date, I would like to ask the commission something …” Commissioner J.H. Atkins said. “Seeing that the bids are from $65,000 to $100,000 … I keep asking myself who in Danville will really benefit from us doing this study. And that the answer is a multitude of groups of people and organizations will benefit … Why is the city of Danville footing the bill for this ourselves again? Why aren’t we seeking support financially from others who will benefit from such an intensive study?”

City Manager Scott said different people may have different answers to that question. “But my answer is we’re the city and we’re trying to have a service provided that will help with our future visions, help all organizations and all the residents of Danville.” He said the city is the “most proper organization to do that,” and it avoids the potential for a conflict of interest in how it operates.

“It’s the cleanest and most effective way, even though it does cost a little bit to do,” Scott said.

“Anyone else want to respond to my questions?” Atkins said, looking around the room. “You know where this is coming from, right? Anyone else want to respond to this? Everyone’s OK with this?”

Commissioner Caudill said, “I think Ron’s answer — I’m satisfied with that.”

Atkins said he was “just looking for an answer to take out to the community.”

Caudill said, “Some of the people we’d seek funding from — we fund them ourselves anyway, so …”

Commissioner Denise Terry asked Atkins if he had “particular entities in mind that might want to contribute.”

Atkins laughed and looked out at the audience. “Is there a volunteer out there? Want to answer my question?”

Brian Hutzley, Centre College’s VP, CFO and treasurer, said the college would be “more than happy to be a partner.”

“Ron and I talked about it — I agree, there could be a perception of conflict of interest. But if done right, you have a number of community members willing to support it.” Hutzley said Centre did a campus master plan, so he knows how expensive it is. But, he said he also knows how important it is “to do it right. The best firm might cost the most. If it’s the best firm, it’s worth finding the money. I know there’s others — I won’t name them because they’re not here, but I’ve talked to other citizens and community members, and I know they’d be willing to contribute. So, if you decide to go that route, you’ve got one volunteer.”

Commissioner Serres brought up the wayfinding initiative — a study which resulted in a plan to place most of the city’s signage to area attractions —  and how it’s been “kicked back,” and is on hold for now. He understands why some would question the city about starting a new project when it hasn’t finished some of the older ones. “But if we’re going to get some help on this, it’s a different deal.”

‘To represent everyone’

Scott said that the top three chosen firms all have “a robust approach to seeking community input,” and it was important to him that the project didn’t come across as having a “pay to play” approach, or as giving special leverage to any specific groups because they can afford to help.

“We want something to be available to all organizations and individuals, whether money is ponied up for this or not … “ Scott said.

Terry said she feels it makes sense for the Convention and Visitors Bureau to contribute. “I do think it needs to be a collaborative effort. Centre and the hospital have their own master plans, CVB has a plan as well, I’m sure. It needs to be a collaborative effort, don’t necessarily mean financially.”

Atkins said, “Commissioner Serres just went to signage (wayfinding), that’s another big-ticket item we are financing ourselves. Seems to be a lot of other folks benefitting from that study as well. I’d toss out the same caveat, and have anyone donate money to buy (signage) … If it’s legal.”

“We have a lot of players at the table, ready to move forward,” CVB Director Jennifer Kirchner said.

“Hopefully, they’ll come to fruition at some point before frustration,” Serres said.

“In the community, there are folks who are out there saying ‘so-and-so wants to help give money to some of these activities.’ If they want to pay without playing or play to pay, it needs to be discussed to know it’s out there …”

Tuesday, Hutzley said he’s not positive how much Centre would contribute; it would depend on how much the total cost is and who else is contributing.

“Given our history of ‘passing the hat’ to jointly fund our last Strategic Economic Development Plan, which was mostly funded by the city, it was perhaps thought by some that the same process would or could be used for the funding of the Downtown Master Plan,” Scott said Tuesday. He said to get multiple entities contributing to the study “would not necessarily be a conflict of interest, but it could give rise to the perception of such — as we are discussing future land use and economic activity.”

Scott maintains that to avoid that potential perception of a problem, “or the reality of it becoming a conflict,” it’s best that the city fully fund the project, as well as have transparent meetings involving all community members who wish to give input on the future vision of the city.

“There will be many robust opportunities for public involvement in developing this vision … It is properly funded by the government to represent everyone.”