A building owner who's spearheading a private sector effort to revitalize the downtown said he's not trying to drive the churches out of Salem, contrary to what a local pastor claimed to city council.
Salem resident Scott Cahill said he didn't even talk about churches during a recent Technical Advisory Committee meeting held at the Salem Golf Club two weeks ago and he didn't think anyone else had, either.
Cahill was responding to Thursday's story about comments made by Pastor Francis Burkhart of the Tri-County Church of God when he addressed members of city council Wednesday night and expressed his opinions against the T.A.C. plan being formulated.
Burkhart told council members he attended the T.A.C. meeting and said the idea sounded good on the surface to revitalize the downtown, but he believed it could have "some dangerous consequences."
According to Burkhart, someone asked during the T.A.C. meeting about the churches located in the downtown area and he said it was said that "churches don't belong in downtown Salem."
Burkhart said he took offense to that, but Cahill said Thursday he couldn't recall the statement being made. He said he never said anything about relocating churches.
He also said he never advocated putting apartments above churches, which was another comment Burkhart made when talking about the idea to have all the floors of downtown buildings in use.
According to Cahill, someone asked "what are we going to do about the tattoo parlors."
He said they're not going to mandate who occupies the buildings, but what they discussed was the fact that when the values of buildings appreciate or increase as a result of improvements, the cost of maintaining a tattoo parlor on the main corridor may be prohibitive due to the expected increase in rent.
In a previous story about the T.A.C., Cahill said the idea was to work with the downtown property owners to get their buildings rehabbed and up to minimum building standards, making them desirable, increasing their value and making it possible for occupancy on all floors.
"What I want is a successful, vibrant downtown," he said.
Cahill grew up in the Salem area and remembers what the downtown was like in his younger days. When he returned to Salem recently, he was disappointed with what he found. He said the occupancy of downtown is about 15 percent. Buildings are being used to store people's possessions. Buildings are vacant, burned out and falling down and scattered throughout are people trying to make a living in businesses. Only the ground floor is being used in many of the multi-story buildings.
He said the minimum standards for safety code already exist and are already in place and they just want them followed. He said the subcommittee that's looking at the building codes may not even require any action by council.
He questioned whether Burkhart's church building on South Broadway, which is the Gurney building and former site of the Strouss store, is in compliance with the minimum standards, saying he could see broken windows on the upper floors.
According to Cahill, the estimated value of a downtown building now is about $1,670 per linear foot. With renovations, he estimated the values could increase to $9,000 to $18,000 per linear, which could increase the tax base by 200 to 300 percent or more. The more valuable a building, the more rent can be charged.
He said the improvements will be done by development. No federal, state or local money will be requested. Participation will be up to the property owners.
"This is not about me making money in any way, shape or form," he said.
The plan is for the subcommittees to study their areas and come back to the T.A.C. and a white paper will be produced on how to renovate the downtown.
Cahill said there will be a public comment period and at least two public meetings will be held for people to make comments about the idea. Copies of the plan will be made available.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org