I'm glad that the Pringle Square/Boise Cascade development here in Salem has sprung back to life. This is a PDF version of today's Statesman Journal story.
Download A closer look at the new Boise Cascade proposal
The rush to rubber stamp the new development approach bothers me, though.
Geez, tomorrow the City Council is planning to approve tax breaks for Mountain West Investment, along with paying a sweetheart purchase price of $2 million for 3.8 essentially undevelopable acres that would be added to Riverfront Park.
This project has been stumbling along for quite a few years. How about taking a month for the public to weigh in on the pros and cons on the deal that the City of Salem and Mountain West Investment have brokered?
And only revealed a few days ago.
Oh, I think I know the answer: City officials are worried that citizens will have good questions, the answers to which might lead to some changes in the deal that would be more beneficial to taxpayers.
Below is a message that Richard Reid sent to City Councillors and other officials today. He asks some excellent questions.
I'm not saying that some honest answers would derail the new project, which for sure is much better than the previous incarnation that got blocked by citizens objecting to a takeover of Riverfront Park land for an access road that, even if approved by the City, would have required National Park Service approval that was unlikely to be granted (because the Park was built with federal funds).
What's the harm in postponing Council action on the deal until Salemians can ask questions and get some answers?
A closer look at this article raises some interesting questions
Why are taxpayers likely to pay $2 million for property appraised at $700,000 to $800,000? The article refers to the “groundswell” of community support for completing the Park as if this was a recent phenomenon. But the plan/vision was established years ago. Why doesn’t the city simply condemn the property and pay an “eminent domain” price?
Yes, plans to build apartments on what many assumed would be parkland created an “uproar” but what killed the deal was the failure of both the City and Mountain West to research the legal ramifications of building a public road on public parkland through the Carousel parking lot to the proposed apartments.
Mayor Peterson refers to the “one-time” opportunity to pay 3 times the price for the parcel and justifies it by claiming the park expansion will be like an engine on the economic development train. But the Mayor and other Councilors were silent when that same train almost left the station when Council threatened to approve apartment construction covering 3.8 acres of parkland.
Mountain West’s continued bungling is a reminder that the City, any City, needs to be vigilant when considering entanglements with real estate developers. City of Keizer taxpayers had to pay a tidy sum last year because someone in that city and others on its council ignored facts in the public record.
Mountain West knew or should have known the difficulties associated with railroad crossing and right of way. And everyone knows the land in and around the Boise property is very poisonous.
The paper says Mountain West is dusting off a “delayed” plan. To be clear Mountain West delayed their plans once they discovered what other 30-year old plans for the property reveal; the costs of removing that warehouse make profitable planning a challenge for anyone.
To close the deal, or fuel Mayor Peterson’s economic engine, Mountain West is dusting off its application for both a tax abatement and other “help” with financing. Tomorrow night City Council, the same folks who want a third bridge, have the power to commit Salem taxpayers to a $10 million giveaway and an undetermined “project bond” to be secured by Mountain West, the same folks who seemed to be confused about rail right of way and unaware of poisons on their property.
The article asks if the developer will make a profit and of course the developer claims the project may just break-even after burning “X-million” on chasing an ill-conceived project.
It’s outrageous that the reporter never refers to the “X-million” the City would have lost if the apartments had been built on the economic engine parkland, or the money always required to hook up private development to public services. The article fails to ask whether or not the taxpayers will profit from this or any other real estate development.
How will this deal pencil out? Who will ask staff to estimate the tax revenues the project is supposed to create? Will staff calculate when the estimated tax revenues will repay the public investment in this development?
Is it worth risking tax abatements and other considerable taxpayer investment on a “break-even” project?