City needs to ‘think big’

To the Editor:

The City of Troy has taken the first steps to “revamp” the downtown vacant lot called Prouty Plaza. The city is planning to spend $300,000 to make some improvements, plant some greenery and place some benches in the space. The City’s presentation to the park board raised concerns about the mural and the portable stage now being used for events at the plaza.

A little history: the 50th anniversary of the arson fire that destroyed the Ulhman’s Department Store and created the vacant lot is fast approaching. After the fire, the City hoped that the owners of the building would rebuild. As time passed with no rebuild, it was decided to paint the side of the Mayflower building. A local artist was contracted and the mural was created to protect the building and cover the effects of the fire — just until the new building was constructed. As more time passed, it became evident that the owners were never going to rebuild and eventually, the City gained control of the lot.

The City never reached a decision on any development plans and the lot defaulted to the Park Department which does a good job growing grass and hosting a few entertainment events a year. Reflecting the City’s current use of the lot, the MKSK plan called for the above improvements to enhance the entertainment value of the lot adding to the vibrancy of the downtown.

For a moment, let’s think “Big!” One of the primary goals of the MKSK study was to bring more people to the downtown by attracting new businesses and more jobs. With the construction of the Kettering Hospital and the completion of the new building on South Market, attracting new jobs to the downtown becomes more difficult because there are a limited number of places for new businesses to locate.

Prouty Plaza is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the downtown. What if the City sold or leased the lot to a developer who would construct a four-story building incorporating an atrium that could be used as a stage in the evenings, space for a welcome center and public restrooms, additional retail space on the ground floor and offices on the upper floors? Prouty Plaza would be transformed from a vacant lot to an attractive addition to the downtown. The new building would provide all the benefits of the “revamp,” would provide needed space to attract new businesses and jobs and provide revenue to the city and county in the form of income, real estate and sales taxes. The sales proceeds or lease payments could be directed to improvements at Duke Park.

What is the downside? The downside is that a developer cannot be found and the City spends the $300,000 on the “revamp” plan. What about the mural? If the new building is built, the mural would have served its purpose.

— Jeff Schilling