I'm used to City of Salem officials doing stuff that makes me scratch my head in bafflement.
In fact, it's amazing that I've got any head hair left, given the many "what the hell is going on here?" moments those of us who follow goings-on at City Hall have been exposed to recently.
-- Cutting down the five beautiful U.S. Bank trees for no good reason.
-- Trying to take over part of Riverfront Park for an access road to a private development.
-- Planning to install downtown parking meters without first talking to businesses there.
-- Demolishing historic Howard Hall against the recommendation of the Historic Landmarks Commission.
--Letting Salem Hospital go ahead with building a parking lot and clear-cutting an urban forest even though a legal ruling went against the City.
-- Persisting in plans for a way-overpriced Police Facility in the face of citizen opposition.
-- Doing away with the duly-selected downtown organization.
-- Working to foist an unneeded $430 million third bridge on local taxpayers even though fixing the current bridges would cost way less and accomplish way more.
The head-scratching craziness goes on and on. Salem's Mayor, City Manager, city councilors, and others just keep on coming up with notions that don't pass a reasonable person's make-sense test.
Here's another to add to the what the hell...? list. All I know is what was shared in a City of Salem Facebook post today. It sure sounds decidedly sleazily suspicious.
I've bold-faced the passages that set off alarm bells in my Sleaze Detector.
Salem’s Urban Renewal Agency Board on Monday, March 9, will be asked to approve an agreement that would authorize a performance-based grant of up to $749,999 to a developer of the former Boise Cascade site.
The developer, Salem LTC Properties, intends to purchase a portion of the property known as the North Block from its private owners. The site is east of the railroad tracks at the former industrial property, which is now part of a master plan called Pringle Square.
Salem LTC is a subsidiary of Milwaukie-based Marquis Companies. The developer’s plans call for a 38,000-square-foot acute rehabilitation center and 24,000-square-foot office building. Construction of the $11.6 million rehabilitation center is expected to start by spring 2016.
The grant structure is based on performance. Only the additional property taxes generated by development -- which would ordinarily go to the urban renewal area -- would be paid to the developer as an incentive to build the project. The grant only applies to rehabilitation center, not the office building.
The grant guidelines were approved by the urban renewal agency’s board in January.
Salem’s aspirations to buy 3.8 acres for an expansion for Riverfront Park also depend on offering the performance grant.
In January 2014, the city entered into a purchase and sale agreement to buy riverfront property for a park expansion. Offering a performance grant is a condition to close on the sale. The deal is scheduled to close no later than March 31.
Urban renewal agency staff have recommended that the board approve the development agreement with Salem LTC Properties.
The urban renewal agency board meets just before the Salem City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, at the Vern Miller Civic Center, 555 Liberty Street SE.
OK. Let's ponder the facts here. There may be more than meets the eye, but what my eye sees isn't very pretty.
I believe this includes about $750,000 in tax abatements, and a sweetheart deal on the City's purchase of the above-mentioned acreage that could be added to Riverfront Park -- which Mountain West has no access to, since it is on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.
Now we learn that part of the sweetheart deal is even sweeter for Mountain West Investment, and more sour for Salem citizens.
It requires the Mayor and City Council, who are one and the same as the "Urban Renewal Agency Board" (they just meet under a different name when doing urban renewal business) to cough up $750,000 -- oh, sorry, $749,999, which sounds so much less -- in urban renewal funds to give to a subsidiary of Marquis Companies so it can buy land from Mountain West for... get excited, Salemians, about what's coming to your downtown riverfront... a nursing home.
Hmmmmm. This sure doesn't sound like what "urban renewal" is supposed to do.
Marquis is a large provider of long term care services. It already has 30 other rehabilitation, assisted living, and similar sorts of facilities.
This urban renewal money isn't going for infrastructure to revitalize a neglected area. Apparently it is going directly to Marquis' Salem LTC corporation to subsidize the building of the planned $11.6 million rehabilitation facility on bare land.
I'm not sure what sort of performance this so-called "performance grant" requires. Just going ahead and building the facility that Marquis already wanted to construct? Again, can you say corporate welfare?
No, let's make that shakedown corporate welfare.
Because the not-so-hard bargainers at City Hall not only want to pay $2 million for 3.8 acres of prospective park property appraised at $800,000 or thereabouts, along with forking out $200,000 to investigate pollution on the Mountain West parcel, they also acceded to Mountain West's demand that Salem LLC get $750,000 in urban renewal funds to subsidize a rehab facility on land bought from Mountain West.
To me, a nursing home/rehab facility on prime downtown riverfront land is a horrible idea. If someone wants to do this, they should pay for the whole horrible idea themselves. Why should taxpayers dish out $750,000 more to a private developer?
I suspect that if the City of Salem had widely advertised, "We're willing to give $750,000 to a business interested in building on downtown riverfront property; give us a call, and we'll talk," some much more creative and attractive development proposals would have been elicited.
Instead, what we've got here smells of the sort of backroom cronyism that marks City Hall deals these days.
With big corporations, at least. Ordinary citizens get no special consideration, because they don't have the money and power in this town that comes from buying elections for the Mayor's office and city council seats.
If you're as tired of this crap as I am, head over to Progressive Salem.
They're seeking to restore openness, honesty, citizen involvement, and smart spending at City Hall. Stuff that sure seems to be lacking in this deal.