Man, the outrages never end when it comes to the Powers That Be in this town financially rewarding... get ready for a non-shocking revelation... other members of the Powers That Be.
The newest example of Salem's crony capitalism is T.J. Sullivan's request to the Downtown Advisory Board for $749,999 to help pay for the $8.9 millionPark Front office building on the old Boise Cascade property adjacent to Riverfront Park. See:
Download DAB agenda 12-01-16
Note: Sullivan's request letter asks for $749,000, but I guess the Downtown Advisory Board threw in an extra $999 just to get the total tantalizingly close to a round $750,000.
The Downtown Advisory Board staff report about the request speaks of leveraging Riverfront/Downtown Urban Renewal funds, and removing blight. But construction of Sullivan's office building was announced in March 2016 -- more than eight months ago.
This announcement didn't say that the Park Front office building only will be constructed if Urban Renewal funds can be obtained. No, it and a Statesman Journal story published at the same time said that construction will begin soon.
Park Front LLC announced plans to build a 27,000-square-foot commercial building in downtown Salem at the former Boise Cascade site, joining a flurry of projects at the once blighted industrial park.
Construction for the $8.5 million building will begin on a portion of the North Block parcel of the Boise site in summer 2016 and be finished by May 2017, said TJ Sullivan, a co-owner of Huggins Insurance.
Huggins Insurance, along with several investors, formed Park Front LLC. The insurance company will lease out and relocate from its current office on 1786 State Street to the Park Front building once construction is completed. A stock brokerage has already signed on as a tenant, and Sullivan said several businesses, including gyms and banks and medical offices, have expressed interest in the office space.
So it seems clear that the $749,999 isn't needed to spur redevelopment of a blighted part of Salem. The Statesman Journal story refers correctly to "the once blighted industrial park." Repeat, once-blighted.
Also, Sullivan told the Statesman Journal that several tenants, naturally including his own insurance company, either are committed to locating in the Park Front building or have expressed interest in doing so -- another piece of evidence that urban renewal funds aren't needed to leverage development in a blighted area that otherwise wouldn't occur.
The question then becomes, why is there a good possibility that T.J. Sullivan will get a taxpayer giveaway for a project he and his partners already were committed to building?
Well, here's some possibilities.
-- Sullivan is a former city councilor.
-- Sullivan is a vice-president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
-- Sullivan was a Chamber spokesperson for the campaign against a mass transit payroll tax to improve bus service in Salem, where he lied about current Cherriots funding.
The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce is opposing a payroll tax proposal that would restore evening and weekend bus service in Salem-Keizer and provide free bus passes to students. To fight the measure they have produced an attack ad called “Stop the Employer Tax.” It begins with a scary soundtrack that sounds like it was recycled from the old Willie Horton attack ad. Kind of laughable.
But then you hear the first words spoken in the ad, and they’re simply untrue.
The voice of T. J. Sullivan who owns Huggins Insurance, and is a Chamber Board member and former Salem City Council member is heard to say this: “The State gets off without having to pay a dime.”
Wrong. The state of Oregon already pays a de facto payroll tax to the Salem Keizer Transit District that raises about $5 million a year and is about three times the 0.21% of payroll that is being proposed for other employers in Salem to pay.
Thus T.J. Sullivan clearly is part of the Powers That Be who like to believe they can control what happens in Salem for the benefit of the already rich and powerful.
And it sure looks like the Salem City Council, which serves as the Urban Renewal Board, is poised to hand over $749,000 to Sullivan for no reason other than, um, he deserves it?
Hopefully this outrage can be derailed, especially since approval of the money appears planned for the last "lame duck" Council meeting before three new progressive city councilors take office in 2017.