Southport Council members established the City’s first Redevelopment Commission (RDC) at their monthly meeting this past Monday night with little fanfare. It’s been 4 long years after former Mayor Robin Thoman first introduced the benefits of an RDC to the Southport Council.
Mayoral (3) and Council (2) appointments for RDC Commissioners were announced at the same meeting. Russell McClure (certified urban planner), Duane Langreck (registered architect) and James Keller (licensed plumber) were announced as Mayor Testruth’s appointees while Jim Cooney (councilmember) and southside realtor Roger Harris were noted as Common Council appointments.
Establishing the RDC has been a long process for the City. It met strong opposition in 2008 from three Southport council members, Rose Harrison, Susan Schmoll and Greg Dant in spite of overwhelming support from Southport citizens, regional officials and southside businesses. Schmoll (now deceased) and Dant (later resigned) often explained that they were in favor of an RDC “but not under this [Thoman] mayor”. Harrison (unopposed for her second term) often cited her requirement for the Council to seat three commissioners instead of the two provided for in state statutes. “We sure don’t trust this mayor” she said.
Three separate economic development studies (two under former Mayor Nanette Tunget and the most recently under former Mayor Robin Thoman) all recommended establishing an RDC.
The vote ended 3-1, with only Councilor Larry Tunget opposed. Nick Schmoll, councilor for District 2 missed the regularly scheduled meeting. No reason was offered by council president Jim Cooney or Mayor Jesse Testruth for Schmoll’s continued absence. Schmoll has been absent for three meetings already this year after Testruth appointed him to fill the seat vacated the after passing of his wife Susie. Mrs. Schmoll was unable to complete her first term after being elected in 2007.
Mayor Testruth appeared to be surprised at Tunget’s Monday night vote. The councilor for district 4, Tunget had earlier voted in favor of establishing the RDC during the initial readings of the ordinance at the March ‘12 and April ’12 council meetings. Tunget had also spoken in favor of the RDC at organizational events and public hearings. Remarkably, his letters to the Council (2008) and to Southsider Voice Editor (2009) were adamantly against the proposal citing racial profiling and the unhealthy nature of additional business competition that would show up in Southport’s central business district if the commission was successful. Tunget’s wife Nanette, a former mayor was also frequent opponent of the recommended RDC.
According to state statutes, the RDC Commissioners now have 12 months to put together a Master Plan for approval by the Southport Council. No budget has been set to support the RDC nor has a director or advisor been selected. Mayor Testruth has often cited his frustrations with available funding resources in running the City. McClure and Langreck are hopeful that investments can occur soon.
All three of the other excluded cities (Beech Grove, Lawrence and Speedway) have long ago established redevelopment commissions and each has successfully completed initial projects in the heart of their central business districts.