After a week that celebrated art, innovation and music — the Tom Tom Founders Festival — Charlottesville City Council candidate Mike Signer said the community’s creative energy should be turned next towards local job creation and economic development.
“[Charlottesville] ought to be a center of opportunity creation,” Signer said at a Monday news conference at the Ix warehouse park. “We should be known throughout Virginia and the country for our leadership in creating opportunity for all of our citizens.”
Signer, 42, said his campaign’s first in-depth policy positions had been crafted by a listening session held with city and county economic development leaders representing the technology sector, workforce development and the arts.
“We just had this amazing experience of the Tom Tom Founders Festival, which highlighted innovation and entrepreneurship [and] really cutting-edge ideas from around the country,” Signer said.
“The simplest, biggest idea here is we need leadership,” he said. “It would be very helpful to have more City Council members who understand the importance of our elected government in driving forth opportunity creation in the city.”
Signer, a business attorney, outlined 15 specific proposals in five topic areas that included workforce development, economic development, the arts, efficiency in government and infrastructure to support innovators.
The campaign announcement also was attended by fellow Democratic candidates Wes Bellamy and incumbent Kathy Galvin, both of whom Signer singled out for praise in his remarks. Lena Seville and incumbent Dede Smith also are seeking the party’s nomination.
The five candidates will be on the June 9 Democratic primary ballot. Voters can select as many as three candidates in the primary, and the top three candidates will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
One business owner who said he found “common ground” in Signer’s proposals was restaurateur Peter Castiglione, co-owner of Maya.
Castiglione and other restaurant owners lobbied against the meals tax increase the City Council approved last week. Castiglione said he thought Signer would have handled the budget and tax challenges differently, especially though better engagement of the restaurant owners.
“I believe Mike has more experience in that arena than anyone on council at the moment,” he said. “Maybe that’s all we need to galvanize a good council, because they are all really smart.”
Signer said the city needed to be exacting with any new taxes.
“As a city councilor, I want to be very careful, just as a business would, with connecting revenue and expenses and making sure we are living within our means and that we are investing where we should in our city,” Signer said.
He also called for city government to put its past studies on economic opportunities into action and to get directly involved in the creation of a new business incubator and accelerator, as well as with the designation of an innovation district.
“This could have all kinds of impacts for technology, for transportation and for the ways the city relates to private companies,” Signer said.
Tim Miano, chief executive invention officer of SP@CE, said his city-based organization’s goal is to create such a business innovation district.
“An innovation district in downtown is really central to taking Charlottesville from the potential it has into the future for what it seems to want to become,” said Miano, whose company seeks to accelerate innovation by creating flexible working environments for other businesses. “Last week at Tom Tom was just this extraordinarily effective celebration of entrepreneurs and founders and innovation.”
Miano said that, despite the “healthy and active ecosystem” for both for-profit and nonprofit entrepreneurs, the absence of flexible and abundant downtown office space was a barrier.
He said an innovation district supported by tools like tax credits and streamlined approval procedures for new development could help create the atmosphere sought by the millennial generation.
“They want to be downtown, they want a certain level of urban density, they want to be able to walk and bike to bars and restaurants and to their job and there’s just a lack of available housing and available work spaces in downtown Charlottesville,” Miano said. “If Mike gets on council, I’d really like to see a unified message from the City Council that innovation and entrepreneurship is really important.”
Barbara Null, chairwoman of the Charlottesville Republican Committee, said the party has scheduled a May 9 mass meeting to nominate its candidates. Only one candidate has stepped forward thus far, Null said.
Anson Parker, 37, an application developer at the University of Virginia health sciences library, said Monday that he intends to seek the Republican nomination.