MARQUETTE - When Terry Doyle purchased the building that would become The Vierling Restaurant in downtown Marquette in 1985, people told him he was making a mistake.
At that time the downtown was in poor condition, with blighted buildings and empty storefronts.
"I remember when it was bleak. In fact, I remember when we first went in there in '85 people thought that we should have been on the highway," Doyle said.
At Monday's Marquette City Commission meeting, Doyle and others said the turnaround in downtown Marquette over the last 25 years was largely due to the Marquette Downtown Development Authority and the tax increment financing district and urged the commission to amend the DDA's current district development and TIF plan and approve a third phase which would renew the TIF for another 25 years.
The commission agreed, unanimously approving it. The TIF was to expire in 2013.
"Would we be the vibrant and growing downtown we are without the TIF? Perhaps, but we have many cities around us that are decaying and lifeless with many vacant homes and businesses," said Tom Wahlstrom, owner of Elizabeth's Chophouse on Front Street. "Evidence of success is our commercial and residential growth in the TIF zone."
Not everyone who spoke Monday was in favor of renewing the TIF. Marquette resident Don Potvin said the TIF has been successful in revitalizing the downtown but suggested the commission let it expire. He said it is time for the city to recapture tax revenue that is currently being used exclusively for downtown development.
"Is it proper or fair to the vast majority of Marquette city citizens to continue to direct tax dollars to the selfish wishes and not necessarily needs of the TIF district and have the city commission continually postpone or not accomplish projects in the best interest in this vast majority that pay their taxes for use in the general budget and hold their breath until services and projects that benefit them are done?" Potvin said.
The downtown TIF district works like this: taxes from the district are set at the level prior to the district being established, in this case 1984, and those taxes continue to go to the city and county every year. Increases in taxable property values within the district are captured by the TIF and those funds are used to maintain and develop the downtown.
The DDA's initial development and TIF plan was approved in 1984 and again in 1992. The current plan would add projects such as the rehabilitation of the Bluff Street parking structure, improvements to Baraga Avenue and other items.
Commissioner Don Ryan said the TIF district benefits the entire city. He said the downtown attracts many people to the area, both to live and to attend special events in the city.
Mayor John Kivela said when he first came onto the commission, he was in favor of letting the TIF expire but has since changed his mind. He said of the $656,217 captured next year by the TIF about $381,000 would have been destined for the city's general fund.
"Of the $381,000, how much do you think the city would have to spend to do those things that get done down there now? They're not going to magically get done. We would then have to hire additional people and pay for those services. They will certainly exceed $381,000. This is a good financial move for the city of Marquette," he said.
Kivela listed a number of developments and events downtown - including Mattson Park, the start of the U.P. 200 sled dog race, the New Year's Eve ball drop, the farmers market and the Marquette Regional History Center - which he said would not likely exist were it not for a vibrant downtown.
"Why, knowing what we have - this treasure downtown, would we want to take a chance on screwing that up?" he said.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is email@example.com.