New organization to rethink how revitalize business district
by BRIAN NADIG
A group of residents have formed a new organization designed to rethink how the struggling Jefferson Park business district -plagued for decades by vacant storefronts, empty lots and absentee landlords – can be revitalized.
Called "Rebuilding Blocks," the group has designed a plan aimed at bringing community-based investment into the commercial area.
"We want to be ready when the city starts to look like we can (fully) reopen," said resident Megan Auler, who founded the organization along with Anthony Hall and Dan Metivier. "We really want (new businesses) to be in our neighborhood."
Under the group’s plan, a community investment fund should be formed, and those funds would be used to buy a strategically located and undervalued commercial building that is then renovated and leased out.
In order to maintain cost-friendly rents to prospective tenants, multiple businesses could be considered for a single storefront – a possible shared kitchen concept with one business operating during the daytime and another in the evening, Auler said.
After about a year of steady rental steady, the group would then refinance the project, taking a percentage out as cash that would be used to repay investors or rolled back into the next project.
Auler acknowledged that raising the necessary funds won’t be an easy task but the group maintains that similar plans have worked in other towns, including Detroit where an empty lot was purchased and turned into an outdoor dining area with an old shipping container used as a bar.
"It’s definitely going to be a challenge," Auler said, adding that seeking grants to help finance the project is a possibility.
A community survey conducted by the group showed support for the group’s vision, and some responders indicated that they would invest between $1,500 and $3,000. Those interested in learning more about the group can sign up for its newsletter at www.rebuildingblocks.org, and T-shirts, hats and other items promoting the group can be purchased there.