From the front page editorial in the February 4 edition of the Tribune-Democrat, we see that the Urban Renewal Board is still more concerned with economic development than with 'urban renewal.' The Board is attempting, apparently with the help of the Tribune-Democrat, to broker another 'toss a pile of free public money down a rathole' project.
The Tabares/Plaza building has miraculously gone from being 'blight' to being another one of those 'historical treasures' that must be saved at all costs. The building is one of those 'valued historic properties' the owners let fall into rotting disarray over the course of several decades. That owner is the one from whom Urban Renewal purchased the building, for $22,000 worth of tax increment district dollars, back in November of 2007, after approving the purchase in the September meeting. The building was purchased at the urging of Director of Economic Development Ron Davis, who suggested that it might be used for a US Highway 50 museum. That project, despite the piles of money we are throwing into 'tourism,' and despite the interminable meetings in exotic resort areas attended by a multitude of 'tourism experts,' has gone nowhere. Rumor has it that the main roadblock is the Otero Museum, who/which does not want a competing museum on 1st Street. Or should we leave that to dangle, in the best "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment" manner of House of Cards thinking ...
From the minutes of the September 2007 Urban Renewal meeting:
Sandra Leonard made a motion, seconded by Rebecca Goodwin, that Urban Renewal purchase the Tabares Building at 8 & 10 East 1st Street for the purchase price of $22,000 with the acknowledgment that it is considered blight. Motion carried with a vote of 6 Yes and 1 No.
The solitary 'no' vote was by Mac Burtis, bless his doubting little heart.
The article in the Tribune-Democrat mentions but one figure associated with this latest bit of Urban Renewal fiscal skulduggery.
That's the $120,000 to patch and supposedly stabilize the roof, and 'other projects' to additionally stabilize the building. Then the article rather glibly moves to "... total cost would depend on the use of the building ...'.
That's a disingenuous statement at best. At worst, it's a deliberate slant, glossing over the costs in order to pimp the project, leaving the significant amounts actually mentioned in the study as great mysteries. Is this a 'news' story? Or is it a blatant effort to palm this mess off onto the unsuspecting public. That isn't surprising, considering their position on Urban Renewal's La Junta Mill fiasco, wherein Urban Renewal was poised to funnel a half million dollars of tax revenues into a private business.
Some time after the Tabares building was purchased, a study was done. That one mentioned the sum of $2.1 million to overhaul the falling-down, collapsing, rotting, leaking piece of detritus to the point where it could be useable as a commercial property.
$2.1 million. Yep. 2.1 million dollars. But those who have their minds set on saving this bit of pork - that is, most (but not all) of the Urban Renewal board - pooh-poohed that as unrealistic.
So they recently commissioned another study at taxpayer expense, at the urging of Rebecca Goodwin. Why? To come up with more palatable figures?
That second study, the one only superficially cited by the Tribune-Democrat, came up with $1.8 million, for a building finished to the point that it would be ready for tenant occupation. Yes, that is 1.8 million dollars. But that isn't so far off from the original survey, is it ... yet that original survey seems to have disappeared. Perhaps the survey is just an Inconvenient Truth? And, a close exam of the 'new survey' shows what appears to be some very optimistic costs. If anyone thinks that project will come in for $1.8 million in the current economic environment, they need a serious reality check.
The latest 'yes sir yes sir three bags full sir, what would you like to hear today sir' survey then mentions $1,301,738 (don't you love precise cost analyses?) to do a 'building shell renovation.' Yes, that is 1.3 million dollars.
Sounds like real money, doesn't it.
So why didn't the paper publish those figures? They are right there in the same study from whence their 'staff reports' drew that figure of $120,000. By the way ... that $120,000? That's public money. That's your money, and my money, and the money from our friends and neighbors, to be used to shore up - not fix, but shore up - a building that was left to ruin by a private owner. You know, it's one thing for Urban Renewal to buy up blighted properties for demolition, but it is quite another for Urban Renewal to think they should be renovating these disasters, at huge costs ... to the benefit of private businesses. If private businesses - entrepreneurs, the kind of people who made American business first in the world - can't see enough of a return to risk involvement of their own money - why is Urban Renewal risking our tax dollars?
Remember that 'blight' thing from the September 13, 2007 meeting? Where they talked about how if nothing else they could turn it into a parking lot? Well ... it's $280,530 to demolish it and turn it into an empty lot. That too is from the latest study, and that figure too was ignored by the Tribune-Democrat. Can that be because Urban Renewal - and their supporters in the local Fourth Estate - don't want you or me thinking about that option?
Speaking of empty lots ... another thing the Tribune-Democrat doesn't mention is the lot immediately to the east of the Tabares/Plaza building. That lot is currently leased by Tri-County Motors, the last remaining 'real' car dealership in town, and employer of a fair number of people here in the Smile Hi; a business that recently spent a pile of money to remodel and redesign their buildings and lots. Their own money. Not tax dollars given to them by a government board.
So let's turn our attention for the moment to the Public Hearing on Demolition, that was held on May 21, 2012. That's when the demolition of the Tabares building was discussed with the public. In that meeting, Mayor Rizzuto responds to a question by Cheryl Lindner, regarding the use of the lot if the building were demolished. Rizzuto's response:
Tri-County Motors made a proposal that if the Plaza Building were torn down he would like to swap the lot they own at 2nd and Raton for the lot on First Street. Their proposal has not been accepted but if the swap were made there would be no cost involved for the City or Urban Renewal.
Drive on by Tri-County Motors first chance you get. You will see they have cars parked in the lot immediately to the east of the Tabares building. I asked about that, and was told that this lot is actually owned by the city, and that Tri-County is presently leasing it, so as to conduct business, and in the process of that, provide employment for a number of people here in the Smile Hi.
Now let's turn our attention to that most recent study and how it addresses that particular lot, the one to the east of the Tabares building, currently leased by Tri-County Motors ... something that the Tribune-Democrat either overlooked - a journalistic lapse of considerable import if such is the case - or something they deliberately ignored, which is even worse than a mere lapse.
The study repeatedly notes a dependence upon that lot for parking and services support. This project clearly depends upon that lot for success. But if Tri-County has it leased, how is that conflict to be resolved? What about that proposal that would allow the lot swappage? Or is Tri-County just going to have to take it in the shorts? If that is the case, is it really Urban Renewal's mission to pull the rug out from local business? Not only local business, but the only real dealership left in town, and a business that is arguably one of the most viable in the downtown area? Hey, I'm just an interested citizen, and I'd like to know if Tri-County - a business that is basically a bird in the hand - is going to be treated with a bit of consideration and respect, or if they are going to be pushed aside in Urban Renewal's latest hunt for a couple of questionable birds in the bush?
How come the Tribune-Democrat mentions none of this in their front page editorial? Is it the function of a newspaper to pimp government spending and curry favor with government officials to the detriment of the taxpayers? Is it the function of the newspaper to advocate for a project that will adversely affect an established business like Tri-County Motors? Or is it the function of a newspaper to expose such poorly conceived planning and spending in order to provide information from which the public may derive an informed understanding of what the government is doing?
In Part 2, we'll look at the funding sources ... and how Urban Renewal intends to divert tax revenues into selected private businesses.