STRAYER: Optimism prevails in downtown Niles

Published 7:24 am Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Much was lost when the Great Flood of 2018 hit downtown Niles.  While the losses will be felt for some time, this post-flood period seems to be filled with high hopes and optimism.

Examples of this positive approach to recovery and renewal are everywhere.

Let’s begin with housing.  What was once known as Kelly’s Corner is now a new construction site for a five-story apartment building.  The tenants will enjoy underground parking and river views at the corner of Second Street and Broadway.  This new complex will only be available to low-income Niles residents who also meet the age requirements.

This is the City of Niles’ third senior living facility that is restricted to low-income senior citizens.  Low-income housing is an essential component of a city’s success, but when is someone going to step up and say, “We also need upscale and middle class housing complexes downtown!”

From an economic point of view, more and more low income  seniors on fixed incomes will move downtown where the housing is located.  However, their fixed incomes will do little to help sustain a vibrant and economically sustainable downtown.

After we address middle class housing, we need to look into attracting restaurants and bars that would cater to the growing influx of middle and upper income residents.  This would include diners of all ages who appreciate white tablecloths and a warm and friendly atmosphere.

There is a caveat that often stands in the way of economic development and expansion.  That would be tax abatements granted to private-sector developers to help encourage them to invest in Niles.  If the city is too generous in its offering of tax breaks to developers, the city loses by eroding the tax base.  If the level of tax abatement is too stingy, no one will want to invest in new development because of the general cost.

This is why it is a good idea to remember our local officials in our prayers.  They often make tough decisions that need to be made.

Speaking of local officials, the Great Flood of 2018 would have wreaked more havoc on downtown Niles if it weren’t for our local officials, city employees, first responders and the thousands of volunteers who filled sand bags and gave assistance when and where needed.

The clean up effort was remarkable and in no time it looked like nothing ever happened.  But it did happen, and for many Niles residents, their lives will be changed forever.

But for most Niles residents, they can take comfort knowing that they are surrounded by friends and strangers who are standing ready to assist in an emergency.  That level of civic pride and spirit is worth more than tax abatements and financnial incentives anytime.  Out of that pride comes optimism!

Jack Strayer is a native of Niles who moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington, D.C., since 1976.