In my last post I referenced a quote that businesses looking to relocate cared more about reasonable taxes and a positive business climate, than bells and whistles, or even short term bribery. Again, I come to points made during the sales tax debate, but which have probably wandered off the radar screen since.
Of particular interest in the current instance, I recall speaking in favor of a proposed convention center put forth by one Jamie Crowe, the original developer of Quicksand Golf course. Funding would have been through bond sales under an IRS provision called “63-20”, which would have given the city more protection than the county would have received for its prison proposal. The city was asked for two things: a formal statement of approval; and extending Concho St. out to the Loop.
I thought the Concho St. extension, done as a continuation of the existing street, winding along the river in scenic style, would have given tourists in four wheelers direct, attractive access to the historic downtown we spent so much effort and money on, while still encouraging heavier commercial and through traffic to take the Houston-Harte fourlane. Cost to the city at that time was estimated at $1.5 million, with the total $14 million cost of the center being borne by Mr. Crowe and his partners. The city dithered, as best I recall the final objection was the possibility traffic noise would disrupt the contemplative atmosphere of a religious retreat across the river, and Mr. Crowe and his money went away.
We had another petitioner to spend money when Mr. Baker of Oklahoma approached, wanting to rebuild and reopen the old Neff's Amusement Park, of which I have many fond childhood memories. He also approached with his own money, needing only a lease on the city-owned property in time to refurbish over the winter and be ready for a spring opening. This time it seems we were in the midst of a parks “master plan”, far from completion of course. I recall the comment being made that the site would be just lovely for a “Children's Art Museum” to complement the new saddle across the river. Predictably, Mr. Baker took his money and left in disgust and equally predictably, we now have neither a museum or an amusement park on the land.
These examples don't touch on what local businessmen go through. I have seen two businesses on Bell St. shot down by Planning, both vacant lots now. One that recently passed muster had to jump through hoops including, but not limited to, being on City Council Agenda as two separate items at one meeting. Some time ago, I went to get the forms for a relative to build a fence. The paperwork emphasized that all neighbors had to be notified and invited to comment on the minor zoning change, but even if there were no negative comments, or even positive comments from them, approval was not to be taken for granted.
Now excuse my radically libertarian view of property rights, but in my never humble opinion, if that which a property owner and taxpayer wants to do will in no way depredate on his neighbors, the city's job should at least be to stay out of the way, if not actively expedite the approval process.
In fact, I have been so radical as to suggest that so long as a business proposal has no identifiable downside, the city ought to designate one individual in Planning to be THE contact number for a prospective business, and act as ombudsman to help this potential investor jump through the hoops and create the tax paying, employment providing business become a reality. In some venues, this is called a “positive business climate.” We might give it a try, what we are doing now ain't setting any records.