Economic development in downtown Merriam is challenging – but for more than just the usual reasons. The combination of downtown’s location in a floodplain and the age of the buildings mean there are number of building code requirements that businesses owners must comply with before they can renovate or remodel in the area.
During his presentation to the City Council on May 22, Community Development Director Bryan Dyer explained that if remodeling or retrofitting occurs to more than a certain percent of a building, or if the building changes use, it has to be brought up to code, especially in the areas of accessibility and life safety. These changes are then coupled with the impact of floodplain regulations and flood insurance requirements, and that creates a situation many small business owners and developers struggle to make work financially.
“Many developers understand the building code issues when dealing with older buildings, but the real issue for us comes with being in the flood plain. There are a considerable number of requirements and associated costs, and it discourages development. There is an interest in developing downtown Merriam – as there is an interest in developing lots of downtown areas right now – but ours has unique challenges,” Dyer said.
The challenges with developing in Downtown Merriam extend beyond the business community, however. The City is currently navigating through these issues as part of the conversation about the future of the Irene B. French Community Center. Because of the extensive nature of the repairs required in the building, if one issue is fixed, a number of others must be fixed too. This makes it nearly impossible to do minor renovations and repairs, which only compounds the problems we are facing with the condition of the building. And although the community center itself doesn’t sit in the floodplain (portions of the property its on do), flooding is a regular issue in the building. The community center has 18 sump pumps, many of which regularly fail and result in standing water and water damage in locations throughout the building.