Candidates for council discuss downtown at chamber forum

By: Brandon Darnell The News Messenger
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Candidates for the three City Council seats up for grabs on Nov. 4 squared off in the third of four forums Wednesday in an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce in the Sun City Lincoln Hills ballroom. In the vein of last week’s similar event, the five candidates — Tom Cosgrove, Allen Cuenca, Paul Joiner, Stan Nader and Spencer Short — kept it mostly civil, refraining from any personal attacks and sticking to their views on the issues. As the forum was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, most of the questions centered on business. The first question asked about the challenges Lincoln will face when the Highway 65 bypass is complete and traffic is diverted away from the historic downtown. “I believe that when the bypass is complete, downtown will be a better place to own a business, run a business and shop,” Cuenca responded. “The bypass is gonna take a lot of traffic from downtown and people are afraid it’s going to take business away, but that’s not true,” Nader said. He added that as business owners take their operations more seriously, downtown will thrive. Cosgrove admitted that the bypass’ completion will pose challenges, but those will be outweighed by opportunities. He mentioned that a new business area will become available when the Ferrari Ranch Road interchange is built, and the airport will have an opportunity to grow as well. “The coming of the bypass both thrills and worries me,” Joiner said. “Most communities that have their downtowns bypassed wither or in some cases die. We need to start planning now … I think a lot of folks moved here because of the downtown.” Short said that the city has invested heavily in downtown, and that Lincoln needs to take the next two to three years to find the right tenants for storefronts, making sure they are businesses that will survive and prosper in tough economic times. “We can’t wait until that day (the bypass opens) to start working,” he said. “Lincoln needs to become a downtown destination spot.” When asked about whether the relationship between the city and the chamber will be maintained, all candidates responded that some sort of partnership will need to exist, as it has, but that the financial support may dwindle to some degree. The only question that brought any sort of palpable tension between the candidates was when each was asked what the important components to attracting new businesses are. Joiner, Short and Cuenca identified addressing the needs of the businesses and creating fee and tax structures that will allow new businesses to operate and get their feet on the ground. Nader said he didn’t want to contradict what Short had said, but that as he has been out campaigning, he has heard some rumblings from businesses disenchanted with the city. He advocated starting a business round table to address their needs. Cosgrove shrugged Nader’s comment off, saying that the city has a very good relationship with its businesses. As an example, he pointed to the city’s helping businesses, such as Beach Hut Deli, by deferring some of their startup costs for five years to let them get going, since those costs can contribute to businesses failing in the first crucial years. After the forum, the candidates made themselves available to the public for individual questions, and many chamber members took the opportunity to speak with them before leaving.