Croman plan an important first step

As the Ashland Budget Committee wrapped up its work on cutting the city budget and reducing spending it made one final decision, which on the surface might seem insignificant.

At the very end of a long process, the budget committee authorized spending $80,000 for master planning of the industrial land on the former Croman Mill site. Planning for light industry on this site should eventually generate jobs and boost the city budget. Development of this critical piece of industrial land will create badly needed development fee revenue while increasing the property tax base.

In reality, this thoughtful decision is an important step forward. First, it is the type of spending council needs to do more of, namely, investing a small amount of money in economic development to bring in far more revenue down the road. Second, it gives residents and political leaders something to work on specifically that could bring widespread approval with a highly specific result.

While the Croman site is far less sexy than downtown planning &

something the council narrowly rejected funding in 2006 &

it is probably a far more critical spot to develop. Ashland badly needs to expand its economic base, building on the big four &

tourism, development, medical and education &

in the hopes of creating higher wage jobs and non-tourism dependent revenue.

The pessimists among us (they call themselves realists to be sure) will probably bluster, "there's another 80K flushed into some plan that will never be used."

Those involved in the Croman planning should take great pains to ensure they are proven incorrect. Such negative thinking is paralyzing the city, and ruined the downtown plan effort.

For those who say such things aren't needed, they need to look again at the tension of an undefined Calle Guanajato, a still-broken water fountain, the never-ending battle over the level of police presence on the Plaza, the lack of housing choices downtown and the high level of concern among businesses over declining revenue to know that a downtown plan could have improved all of these areas.

What the Croman site planning will not do is generate huge levels of public interest. Don't expect hundreds of people sitting through several meetings to listen to light industrial development plans like the city did last year when the downtown plan was on the table.

But the lack of emotion about the Croman site could help build bridges among city leaders and residents who up until now have made little progress together. Something as central and emotionally charged as the downtown plan could have proven too explosive to succeed. The Croman site should not generate that type of emotional gunpowder we might use to load another round of personal attacks.

If done right, these funds should produce a highly specific result that brings immediate economic vitality to the city. This success should set the stage for the bigger, more emotional and highly critical process of downtown planning.

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