It went out with a whimper instead of a bang, but the effects of the Richfield Redevelopment Agency will be felt for generations.

The agency was formally dissolved during a Richfield City Council meeting July 30. It had effectively been a non-entity since 2007, when its taxing power expired.

Parking lots may not be the sexiest or most exciting issue for a city to address, but in a downtown area they are vital. 

The agency was established in 1982 as the Richfield Plaza that housed Kmart was opening. 

The agency collected all of the increase in property tax in a 100-acre area. As new construction or renovation occurs in the agency area, the increase in property tax went to the agency for redevelopment purposes.

The Richfield Plaza generated the majority of the funds from Richfield’s agency.

The funds from the agency enabled Richfield City to pursue the construction of parking lots along the west and east sides of Main Street. This meant purchasing property, razing derelict buildings, relocating utilities and of course the actual paving and construction. 

The redevelopment agency expired in fiscal year 2006-07. 

It was a process that took many years as several different iterations of the city council worked to secure property, additional funding and all the other hundreds of little tasks that were needed to make the projects come to fruition. 

At the time the redevelopment agency was established, Richfield was facing a challenge that was being seen in small towns all across the United States. It’s first big box retailer was opening.

In many towns across the country, the arrival of a big box retailer resulted in decline and death of the downtown business districts. Once vibrant downtowns were shuttered by lower prices and homogenized product matrixes. 

The aim of the redevelopment agency was to keep downtown vital by providing additional parking. Better access was a way to help keep downtown viable, and allow for the existence of both mom and pop shops to continue alongside conglomerate outlets. 

For some businesses, the additional parking has made a huge difference, while others have drifted in and out of existence. However, at least the city was working to provide the best possible scenario for business to succeed in downtown.

While the parking lots continue to be a very important and visible improvement to Richfield, the downtown area still has challenges. All retailers, including the big boxes, are now faced with the challenges of the online world.

When it was started, the redevelopment agency wasn’t met with thundering applause. It was a risk, and it resulted in several conflagrations as city leaders wrangled over how to best administer it. However, it laid a foundation that will help keep downtown appealing for years to come. 

The work to keep downtown vital and inviting never stops, and heading into the next decade civic and business leaders need to be looking for the next opportunity to spur business development. 

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