According to records obtained by IdahoReporter.com, the Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC), Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal agency, is bringing in more than $14,000 each month in rental income from residential and commercial properties it owns.
One LCDC official says the practice is common, but an area state lawmaker wants the agency to sell the properties immediately.
Tony Berns, LCDC director, wrote in a letter to IdahoReporter.com that his agency is holding onto the properties because it has strategic plans for the land on which the houses and businesses sit. “As practiced across the country, one of the key tenets of urban renewal/redevelopment is the acquisition of and assemblage of real estate located in key strategic areas identified for future public/private redevelopment purposes,” Berns wrote.
In all, the agency owns 25 properties, including residential and commercial properties and bare lots. LCDC started buying properties in June of 1998 and has spent more than $5.1 million on them since that time.
But state Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, says that LCDC should sell off the properties because it’s competing against local landlords. “That’s not the purpose,” Sims said of LCDC’s mission of improving blighted areas of Coeur d’Alene. “They need to put them (the properties) back on the market.”
Sims said that a section of state law allows LCDC to hold the properties indefinitely as long as there is a renewal plan involved. If the renewal plans are completed, Sims said, state law mandates urban renewal agencies sell properties within three years. She says LCDC is exploiting that loophole and that lawmakers need to change that law. “The Legislature created the problem and the Legislature needs to clean it up,” Sims said.
LCDC holds properties in four different areas of downtown Coeur d’Alene. The agency owns 10 properties near the skateboard park and plans to develop them in conjunction with the education corridor, a project slated to bring together North Idaho College and state universities for a centralized higher learning complex.
The second area, Berns noted, is in midtown, primarily along 4th Street. These five properties serve as the building ground for future housing developed in conjunction with the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. The third area includes five properties and the agency intends to use this area to increase downtown parking access.
The final area includes five properties near City Hall and adjacent to McEuen Field, a park city councilors have tabbed for an upgrade that could cost as much as $40 million. Berns says the properties in this strategic area give the city and his agency more flexibility and options for reconstruction of McEuen Field.
LCDC is not the only urban renewal agency in the rental business. The Mountain Home Urban Renewal Agency purchased a large retail building on Oct. 26 and will renovate it prior to signing a lease with a yet-unnamed national retailer.