Source: Sherman Publications

Remove Images

DDA playing with a full deck again

by CJ Carnacchio

October 16, 2013

A lawyer, a fire chief, a financial adviser, a pastor and an interior designer.

No, this is not some weird send-up of the Village People.

These are the folks the Oxford Village Council appointed to the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board last week.

Phillip Maxwell, Pete Scholz, Rod Charles, Kevin Miles and Susan Schurr will fill the DDA's five vacant seats, enabling the board to once again meet.

This is the first time in a while that the DDA has had a full board.

At the Sept. 16 DDA meeting, three board members resigned.

The nine-member board already had two vacant seats, so this left the DDA with only four members, not enough to legally meet and conduct business.

Maxwell, an attorney whose practice is located in a downtown building he owns at 20 Hudson St., was appointed to a term expiring in September 2016.

"I'm interested in seeing the village develop in a way that respects its past and offers more amenities to people coming into town a more user-friendly village," he said.

Maxwell's been practicing law for 38 years. His office has been in Oxford since 2001.

"I do represent a lot of business owners in town," he said. "Some people have restaurants, retail stores . . . I think I probably have five or six clients (who own Oxford businesses). So, I hear their problems. I hear their concerns."

Although he's handled lawsuits involving governmental accounting, he admitted he's "not an expert" on the subject. "But I certainly can understand it," Maxwell said.

Maxwell indicated he brings to the table an "ability to read and understand statutory law" and "appreciate legal difficulties when they arise or when they are maybe about to arise."

The attorney noted he's familiar with the DDA's previous plans to redo the downtown's streetscape in order to improve pedestrian safety, aesthetics and economic development.

"I think there were a lot of good ideas there," Maxwell said. "I personally would love to see a parking structure in town. I would love to see pedestrian crosswalks, so that we can sort of link the two sides of town (divided by M-24) in a safe way.

"I've watched kids running across M-24 from the movie theater. I've seen several close-calls. If we leave things the way they are, inevitably, somebody's going to be killed on that road."

Between "fine dining," movies and "quality" shops, Maxwell said "there's been a lot of strides made" in what the downtown area has to offer, "but there's still room for more improvement."

"It's a great town to begin with, but I just think that we can make this downtown more of a sort of destination point for people," he said.

Maxwell said development must not only be encouraged, but controlled.

"Unchecked development isn't good," he said. "It has to be planned and cohesive and everybody has to be on board with it."

"The affection a lot of people have for this town is because it's a special kind of place. And I think you've got to preserve that first," Maxwell noted.

Scholz, chief of the Oxford Fire Department, was appointed to a DDA term expiring in September 2014. He has a stake in the DDA district given the entity captures close to $60,000 annually in fire tax monies to finance its operations.

The chief is a lifelong resident of Oxford.

Scholz, who's been chief since 2008 and served with the department since 1976, has a "considerable background knowledge" in theareas of construction, landscaping, project oversight, and drafting and overseeing government budgets.

Scholz believes the DDA needs to reevaluate its role and function in the community and set some goals in order to move forward.

He said the DDA must also understand when the various government entities collect their property taxes and when the DDA will receive its portion of those funds in order to better plan its budget and expenditures.

"The people on that board have to understand when that money's actually going to be available," Scholz said.

Scholz believes the DDA's role is to promote the area and try to "entice" visitors, developers and businesses to come to Oxford.

He doesn't believe the DDA should be involved in the reviewing of site or construction plans. He doesn't believe it's the DDA's role to "dictate" what buildings should look like or what type of business or development goes on a particular site.

That being said, Scholz does believe it's important for the DDA to continue providing grant funding to business owners who wish to redo their storefronts. He supports restoring the "vintage" or "original look" of many downtown buildings that were built back in the 1800s and 1900s.

"When you strip off some of that fake facade on the front of some of those buildings, there's beautiful buildings underneath there," the chief said.

Charles, a certified financial planner and owner of the downtown building located at 14 S. Washington St., will serve on the DDA board until September 2016. He was chairman of the Lone Ranger Committee that organized the movie event and parade over the summer.

As a longtime resident of Oxford, Charles has noticed a "marked improvement" in the downtown's appearance and the type of businesses located there. He said all the people involved in accomplishing this "deserve a lot of credit" for that.

To Charles, one of the main things the DDA needs to do is get its financial house in order, which means keeping better track of the money going in and the money coming out, and building up cash reserves.

"If you have money, it gives you the ability to make choices," he said. "And if you don't have money, you don't (get to) make choices."

Charles said there needs to be a "little investigation" into the DDA's past money issues in order "to make sure we don't repeat those things."

Once the DDA has some money to work with, Charles believes engaging in promotional activities should be a priority as well as keeping "the ball rolling" in terms of the improvements he's seen in downtown Oxford.

"(There's) been a phenomenal improvement in the last 10, 20 years or so," he said.

Promotion and development of the DDA district should be the board's main function, in Charles' view.

"We've done a good job with bars and restaurants," Charles said. "Maybe we need some other activities here, too, to create the kind of environment that a DDA is supposed to foster."

Charles suggested more development could take place within the DDA district outside the traditional four-quadrant core.

Miles, pastor of the Oxford United Methodist Church on E. Burdick St., will serve on the DDA board until September 2014. He's been in the community for a little more than a year, so he believes he can look at the issues facing the DDA and the downtown with "new eyes."

Pedestrian safety is a "big issue" for Miles, so he's very interested in the streetscape discussion. "You may have seen me riding my bicycle," he said.

Another interest that's "dear to (Miles') heart" is making things "much more family-oriented," so he's pleased to see the emphasis on children's activities at downtown events like Celebrate Oxford.

"I want to see this community be really a healthy place . . . for families," he said.

Based on what he's heard via the village's "rumor mill," Miles said, "It seems like the DDA could use a little freshening up in their image."

"Maybe that's not a fair statement, but that's just a new person sort of trying to get a feel for things and seeing that maybe there needs to be some new awareness of what the DDA is supposed to be doing," he said.

"It seems a little bit unclear to me just where the DDA is going," Miles noted.

As a DDA board member, Miles said he would solicit opinions and input from his congregation regarding the downtown area and the issues facing it.

"I feel like I'm representing them and they come from different places in this community and surrounding communities," he said.

Schurr, who owns a small interior design business, is filling the seat meant to be occupied by someone who lives in the DDA district. She's lived here since January and her term on the DDA board will expire in September 2015.

"I think this town is charming," she said. "I already feel invested."

Although Schurr has no previous experience serving on a board, governmental or otherwise, she told council, "I'm totally prepared to do my homework."

She's particularly interested in the aesthetics and history of the downtown.

"I think there's always room for improvement in that area," Schurr said. "I think it's just a beautiful town."

She thinks the downtown needs to capitalize on its historical elements to draw visitors.

"People are attracted to that," Schurr said.

Schurr also believes there could be more development and focus on downtown's side streets as opposed to concentrating on the Washington St. (M-24) corridor.

She noted that pedestrian safety is an important issue to her.

"My son-in-law was on a bike last week and was hit by car in Birmingham," Schurr said.