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Sunday, November 13, 2016

SALLY MORRIS: ANOTHER CASE FOR SMALLER GOVERNMENT

Tomorrow the Grand Forks City Council will hold a meeting to consider what is to be done about the proposed demolition and sale of Arbor Park.  If any of you is interested in preventing another big government boondoggle, this would be the place to be – Monday, November 14, at 5:30 pm. 


The City has been negotiating in the dark with a developer for quite some time now.  As a part of a misguided “Renaissance zone” program, they wanted to sell the land for $1 to this developer and provide for development and sale of very expensive condominiums tax-free (that’s property AND income taxes) for 10 years.  Due to public discovery and opposition to this idea, the City has modified their plan to provide only 5 years tax-free and sell the land for $6/square foot.  Their rationale for the rest of us is that this will provide huge money in taxes after the tax-free period.


It sounds a lot like “too big to fail”.  The plan calls for underground parking accessed from the so-called “Alley of Love” between 3rd and 4th Streets South, from DeMers to Kittson.  Can you imagine the traffic jam there at 7:15 a.m. every day?  Can you imagine people who have spent $250,000 for one of these deluxe condo homes approaching their new home through an alley full of dumpsters?  Neither can I.  So these will either sell for much, much less (or not at all) and there is a good possibility that they will be written off, or that the City will be in it to the point where the developer becomes “too big to fail”, which means that they developer will become a liability. 

During these five years of tax freedom, you and every other property owner and business in Grand Forks will be expected to pay all of their taxes and this developer’s as well.    You WON’T be “too big to fail”.  The whole idea of “Renaissance zones” was designed to try to revitalize blighted cities, such as Detroit.  Grand Forks is NOT a “blighted city” nor is downtown Grand Forks a “blighted neighborhood”.  If there is, in fact, a case to be made for government soliciting private businesses to partake at the public expense (and I do not concede that there is) it surely would not apply to Grand Forks.

All of this is in addition to the loss of a beautiful downtown urban park.  This is not just a “green space”, which in an urban area is a premium, but it is a developed, landscaped, cared-for space, with benches, flowers, artwork.  It is a memorial to the renewal of Grand Forks after the flood of 1997.  The efforts of many and their faith in the city are reflected in this little park.  I have spoken with young women who were married in the gazebo of trees there, a limo driver who has ferried people there and back for weddings, photographers and those who have had special photos taken there.  I have personally been asked to play the harp for weddings there.  It is a unique landmark in Grand Forks.  Fargo has nothing like it.  To lose this for the sake of a businessman who is merely taking advantage of a government program for private gain is not cricket.


I think any time government picks winners and losers in business we lose.  We should be returning to a free enterprise view – get out of the way so a business can start up or prosper, but do not provide public funding either in the way of grants or tax breaks.  The developer in this case stands to make a lot of money for no real risk.  The public, on the other hand, stands to lose a public park (which is a great attraction for people who do live downtown, in fact) and put itself on the hook for a developer who stands a good chance of losing – again at no risk to himself. 


I hope you agree that this is a terrible idea for Grand Forks.  The City stands to make no profit from this unless by some miracle, down the road some five years or more from now some tax dollars come in.  It is all conjectural, and we might find that in five years we might have to bail it out – again.  “Too big to fail” syndrome could easily set in by then.  If you would like to see the City mind its own business and quit spending our money or letting developers come to town tax-free to pick out properties belonging to the “City” – translate:  the People, the Citizens, the Taxpayers, please come to the meeting Monday.  It’s at City Hall at 5:30 p.m., open to all of us.  If you have a view on this and you’d like to share it, this is a good time.  I’d prefer to see something like this on a ballot before the City jumps into bed with it.  Let the voters decide if this is good for the community or not.  Maybe people showing up with questions could bring this to a vote.  At least then it would be the actual people deciding, not a committee of 5 or 6 committee members.
To learn more about Arbor Park, go to the website:  http://savearborpark.webs.com/

Sally

 

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