Muncie Downtown to receive private bank loans

City councilman Monty Murphy woke up Monday morning not expecting the council to take action on a bill to revitalize Muncie's downtown.

He soon found out, though, that not only were council members taking it off the table, but they were voting on it that night.

Despite Murphy's protests that other members were acting too hastily, Muncie City Council voted 6-3 to seek private loans to help revitalize downtown. Murphy, joined by council members Mary Jo Barton and Bruce Weimer, were the three dissidents who voted not to approve a $1.5 million loan from private banks to improve the facades of downtown buildings.

The loan, according to Muncie Mayor Dan Canan, would replace the sporadic funding currently used for revitalization.

"We're not really having the impact we want," Canan said.

The council could have approved the loan at its meeting on Jan. 7, but the issue was tabled after members said they needed more information about the program's accountability.

Murphy argued Monday night, however, it should have stayed tabled. As chairman of the Government Administration Committee, Murphy arranged a meeting last month to address the council's questions. He said Monday he asked for more information after the committee meeting. He said he never got it.

"They jumped the gun," Murphy said. "They already had their minds made up before they put it there."

In front of the council and those attending, Murphy accused the other council members of wasting his time when they knew originally what they were going to do.

"They got the votes," he said. "More power to them, but I think they're jumping the gun on this one."

After fielding Murphy's opposition, Councilman Chuck Leonard spoke up to support the loan program, more fervently than Murphy was opposing it.

"Sooner or later, we have to get downtown done," Leonard said, hitting his fist on the table. "I'm tired of dragging our feet in downtown Muncie.

"We need to do it. We need to do it now."

Leonard said waiting another month to further discuss the issue would only result in higher interest payments.

Murphy also said he was never told that a cap of $100,000 for individual projects was put in place. The lack of a cap, he had said, was a mark against the bill, and he also thought the amount was too high.

Barton, who was going to support the proposal, said she changed her mind once she heard Murphy was not told about the cap.

"I felt better with a 'no' vote than a 'yes' vote because of that," she said.

The downtown currently receives funding from federal money to help improve the facades of the buildings, and Canan said that money would instead be used to repay the loans. The current system used to evaluate applications for federal loans by giving them a certain score would still be used with private loans.

There was some debate among those attending about the effects of past funding. One Muncie citizen said the council was trying to sell a dead horse with the funding.

Others, though, said the funding would attract businesses. One citizen testified she had already talked about starting a business with an investor who was attracted by, among other things, the federal funding.


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