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2017-10-04 / Featured / Front Page

Business group seeks to revitalize Route 60

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


The Greater Southport Business Association wants to expand a special assessment district to raise funds for improvements on Midlothian Turnpike, pictured here looking east just past Courthouse Road. 
JAMES HASKINS The Greater Southport Business Association wants to expand a special assessment district to raise funds for improvements on Midlothian Turnpike, pictured here looking east just past Courthouse Road. JAMES HASKINS As online commerce continues to reshape the nature of brick-and-mortar retail across the country, a local business group could assume a larger role in preserving and enhancing the appearance of Chesterfield’s most critical commercial corridor.

Founded in 1980, the Greater Southport Business Association was re-branded 11 years ago and currently represents more than 300 businesses located on and around a central stretch of Midlothian Turnpike, including Chesterfield Towne Center, Koger Center, the Arboretum office park and the region’s most diverse assortment of automobile dealerships. Now its leaders are reaching out to those business owners and others to gauge their interest in potentially expanding a special assessment district that was created to fund landscape improvements and maintenance in medians along the U.S. Route 60 corridor.

“We’ve heard from people who say, ‘We’d love to be part of it, but tell us what it’s going to cost first,’” said Al Meyer, a member of the association’s board of directors.

Under the terms of an ordinance adopted by the Board of Supervisors in October 2009, all commercial properties located within the boundaries of the Midlothian Initiative for Revitalizing Rights-of-Way district pay a special assessment of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value on their real estate taxes.

Part of the revenue generated was used to repay the county for the more than $300,000 it invested in landscaping the Route 60 medians. The remainder of the funding is allocated to ongoing median maintenance, which totals about $85,000 annually.

“Its purpose is to sustain this important business area and prevent blight and deterioration,” said Carl Schlaudt, the county’s revitalization manager, who oversees the MIRR program.

The 2009 ordinance contains a sunset provision after 10 years, meaning the special assessment district is set to expire Jan. 1, 2020.

But members of the Greater Southport board would like to see it at least renewed in its present form, if not broadened to include additional businesses to both the east and west on Midlothian Turnpike. They have distributed a flyer to association members seeking their input.

Not all association members are located within the current boundaries of the special assessment district.

“We think it’s a worthy endeavor,” said Andy Scherzer, a landscape architect with Balzer and Associates. “We’ve put our money where our mouths are. These are investments that benefit everybody.”

Back when it just represented businesses in the Southport Office Park, which is located south of Midlothian Turnpike near North Courthouse Road, the association successfully lobbied the county to address traffic issues there by installing stoplights and turn lanes.

It expanded in 2006 to include many other nearby businesses and was the driving force behind creation of the MIRR program three years later.

“We’re trying to keep this a safe, healthy place to do business,” said Ray Birk, president of the Greater Southport board. “We think it’s very important to support businesses because if they start moving out, this area is just going to collapse.”

Meyer acknowledged there was a fair amount of misinformation that accompanied the adoption of the special assessment district. Board members heard from angry citizens who lived nowhere near Midlothian and still insisted that their taxes were being increased.

“We took the brunt of it,” he recalled. “Nobody likes taxes, but when people come over here, they get a subliminal message that this place is neat and clean and good-looking, and it looks a lot better than other areas.”

That’s the same message the county has delivered on eastern Route 60 with its acquisition and revitalization of the former Cloverleaf Mall site. According to Schlaudt, as that property deteriorated into blight, its annual county assessment fell as low as $4 million.

The county purchased the property, demolished the mall and brought in a private developer to bring it back to life. The Stonebridge development now includes a massive Kroger supermarket, additional retail shops and luxury apartments. Its most recent property assessment was $70 million, Schlaudt said.

On the other end of Midlothian Turnpike, the Board of Supervisors recently approved two local developers’ plan to build 250 luxury apartments adjacent to state Route 288 at Westchester Commons. County leaders see the apartments as key to increasing activity in the shopping center’s Main Street area.

Reuben Waller, a former county planning commissioner and current member of the Greater Southport board, envisions an expanded MIRR district potentially having a catalytic effect for existing businesses in the Route 60 corridor.

Waller noted that to date, the program has been limited to “flowers and foliage,” but suggested it conceivably could help fund construction of sidewalks linking neighborhoods around Chesterfield Towne Center with the mall and other nearby commercial areas.

The Board of Supervisors would have to approve any change to the boundaries or purpose of the special assessment district. Supervisors Chris Winslow and Leslie Haley joined County Administrator Joe Casey at Greater Southport’s monthly luncheon in September, during which Schlaudt and two members of the county’s Planning Department staff discussed the future of the Route 60 corridor.

“Amazon is doing to the retail community today what Walmart did 20 years ago. It’s a paradigm shift on how business gets done. We have to live with it,” Waller said. “If the county wants to be in the 21st century, it can’t look backwards, it has to look forward.

“Nobody wants to see another Cloverleaf Mall happen here. That was an abomination.” ¦

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