Tax increment financing, or TIF, developed as a tool to encourage revitalization of blighted areas, has too often been just another way to help developers defray insfrastructure costs.
The Midland TIF, recently approved by the Lexington Urban County Council and now awaiting action at the state level, holds out the promise of reviving Lexington's economically distressed East End and the original concept of TIFs.
The area runs along the north side of Midland Avenue between Vine and Third streets, including Thoroughbred Park, and includes some properties on Third up to about Race Street.
This TIF has the potential to be a shining example of a public/private partnership. But to be that, it must respect its East End neighbors.
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That means creating a development that addresses not only the thousands of cars that zip daily along Midland, Main and Vine streets but also the people who walk, live and shop along Third.
In the words of Councilman Chris Ford, whose First District includes the TIF area, the development cannot turn its back on the East End but must present a welcome facade to Third Street as well.
The developers must also hold to their pledges to include housing and retail space that are affordable to area residents and local entrepreneurs.
And they must work with commercial tenants to provide job opportunities in the East End, where unemployment is about twice the rate of the rest of the city.
The city has made significant investments in the area recently, including to the Charles Young Center and park and the recently completed Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at Third and Midland.
On the other end of the district, LexPark has committed to a 160-space, $2.8 million parking garage on a lot at Main and Midland.
The TIF, if it's approved and becomes a reality, will bring in the private investment that's been missing.
The $50 million proposal presented to council includes a mixed-use project by developer Phil Holoubek at Main and Midland and housing, retail and business space construction on the other end on property owned by Community Development Corp.
The TIF comes into play as financing for $17 million in infrastructure improvements to the area. The way TIFs work, a portion of the tax revenue that's added as a result of new economic activity is refunded to repay investment in infrastructure.
TIFs often sail through because the tax revenues that are pledged don't even exist when they're approved. It's hard for anyone to object to giving away that possible future revenue.
Still, that is just what's happening.
Taxes that could be used to provide services in other parts of the state and city will go instead to this one area.
That's OK if, as this TIF promises, the development really does provide new economic life for a distressed area but everyone involved must keep that as the No. 1 goal.