Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Wolf By Its Ears, Still

A Wolf By Its Ears, Still…

Why do I have to be the one to raise the objections? Don’t the others see what I see, that the city has to live within its means? Once again, it seems that we have that old “gimmie gleam” in our eyes.  That gleam is, of course, the Riverfront Park.

Seven and one half months ago I posted “a wolf by its ears.”  You might read it for a bit of background.  I just don’t get it.  We paused the entire riverfront project because of not enough rock.  About $800,000 of not enough rock.  PRDA was given the task to straighten the mess out and give the city a new way forward.  And they worked hard.  I think the other commissioners were really spooked at that $800,000 cost over-run last summer.  Tonight we have a new way forward, and after you add all of the monies still to be spent we are still at, are you ready for this, $800,000 short.  From the PRDA proposal it appears we are $481,582 short.  However, this number does not include the Boating Infrastructure Grant match from the city to the tune of $320,000.  Added together it amounts to $801,582 of your tax dollars to complete the riverfront.  Except it is not a completed thing. My guess is that the camel has his nose under the tent, and I‘m sure there will be more taxpayer expense to come as we dress the riverfront.

I tried, unsuccessfully, an idea from PRDA’s own cost figures.  It is called scenario #4.  To wit: If the city would vote to lose the gangway, transient boat dock, fuel service, in other words all the water activities, it would appear we could have a completed park with all the amenities at the desired level above flood stage for approximately $3.5 million.  This is well under the Federal Highway Grant of $3.8 million.  No more taxpayer money.  A completed park that all of us could enjoy.

And hey, we could use that $800,000 as a down payment on turning the old Executive Inn area into park space that will connect to the riverfront park.

The city must live within its means.  It isn’t pleasant being the naysayer, but I have to do what I think is right for the taxpayer.  Spending has to pass my filter for my “yes” vote.

Tonight we voted to get the grant agencies to bless, or not, the proposed revisions to the riverfront.  Better to ask permission than to plead for forgiveness.  As a husband, I get this concept.

I expect to be out-voted on the riverfront project in the coming weeks.  I’m not surprised, given the votes last year on this project were 4 to 1.  I’m used to it.  This vote allows the city to advertise for bids to be taken on the riverfront project.

Once the bids come in we will review and vote again.  Hope we don’t get the same surprise as last year.

And one final fact you may not get a riverfront booster to mention.  The total pleasure boat traffic through the two locks was down 21% for 2013.  A whopping 628 boats came through Barkley and Kentucky Locks, for the entire year.  Doubt they all made it to the Paducah riverfront.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

City Hall Is Dying

City Hall

As Paducah’s City Hall closes in on its fiftieth birthday, it is dying.  Edward Durell Stone, the building’s renowned architect, would not be happy about the demise of his masterpiece, his rendition of the United States Embassy in New Delhi, India, also his architectural creation.

Age 50 is nowhere near old age and death.  It shouldn’t be this way, but our City Hall is not dying from some horrific event.  No, City Hall is just dying from a thousand small cuts.  These cuts were probably not malicious, but they are cuts nonetheless.

There was a time that City Hall literally seemed to float on a sea of light. All its columns, each lit at night, have grown dark or are only partially lit. The black stair railings that have guided dignitaries and everyday citizens for nearly five decades have been allowed to rust away from their moorings on the concrete steps that lead to the roofed piazza.  And that roof, it is bending low now at the ends, like a man needlessly stooped at middle age.  As you approach from the 5th Street side, the concrete piazza is broken and pockmarked--not from a catastrophe, just no one cared to keep the grand entrance grand.  And don’t forget to notice the small chains up high near the entrance doors.  I believe they are forgotten remnants for the hanging of the Christmas wreaths.  Those entrance doors from both 4th and 5th Streets have a less than pleasing “grafted on” look.  Instead of thoughtfully restoring the original doors, we made do with something less. And that is what we got, something less. At some point it was decided to “modernize” the windows with a fresh coat of grey paint.  Too bad the paint covered the aluminum that had originally been designed by Mr. Stone.  As a further insult, the surface couldn’t have been prepped correctly because the grey is flaking away.

I should stop here. This subject is dispiriting enough.  And I bear responsibility also.  As your commissioner I have not demanded the attention this building needs. It is just a sad way to treat our front door to the world.  Maybe we should try to formulate a plan to correct the slights to our seat of city government.  If not, its epitaph might read: “Some by war, some by pestilence--no, our City Hall perished due to neglect and deferred maintenance.” 

I have told you my feelings, but I need to hear from you.  So let’s have it. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hotel Finally

Hotel, finally

I have this rather dog-eared business card still in my wallet.  I will have carried it for almost a year now.  At the time, December 18th 2012, I was a commissioner-elect who had just been introduced to Glen Malone, the Chief Operation Officer of Senate Hospitality.  In the press conference, Mayor Paxton explained the hotel project wasn’t 100% complete.  It would take four of five months to finish the paperwork, but it was on Bill’s list of things to finish before he left office later that month, and everyone was good with that.  Before the press conference was over, I had added Glenn’s partner Dave Jones and the hotel developer David Puckett’s names to the aforementioned business card. 

By January, you thought I had only visions of the greenway trail Tunnel dancing in my head.  Not so.  There was the 68-page Hotel Market and Feasibility Study written by Johnson Consulting Company.  This document would be my new best friend as winter turned to spring, and to summer, and to fall. This is the book that answered all those questions about who, what, when, where, how much, well, you get the idea.  I lost track of how many times I read and reread it.  Scarily, I became conversant with the lingo of the hotel industry.  I could talk about RevPAR, Induced Impacts, and the Competitive Hotel Set until I thought my head would blow off.  But my time was dwarfed by the hours the team of Steve Doolittle and Jeff Pederson spent.  These guys really put in the hours. I asked Jeff how much of a time suck the hotel project was, and “second most complicated project in my City Manager career” was the answer.  Just so you know, moving the Nebraska State Fair to Grand Island was first on his list.

And, of course, I did do a bit of independent study on the project.  Malcolm Bryant’s Owensboro Riverfront Hotel seems to be a similar project in Owensboro as far as the city, the investors, the state, and the bank participation, as is our hotel project in Paducah.

So last week we had the hotel announcement, and tonight we approved the development agreement at the commission meeting.   

Since the hotel announcement, I have heard from more than a few of you guys.  The comment has been something like, “ Well, since you don’t have the name of the hotel maybe it isn’t a done deal.”  My answer is this: if you were going to use my Etcetera Coffeehouse name on your newly started coffee venture, I would first have a long list of “best practices” on how to run the coffee business.  This “to do” list would be lengthy.  Until you were in compliance, I would not let you use my name on your new venture.  And you wouldn’t either if the roles were reversed.  Well, I pretty sure that is the way any national franchise would do it too. I know that is standard for franchising in the automobile industry, and I have some experience there. So trust me on this one.  Paducah will get its business class hotel on the riverfront.

We have spent most of a year on a significant project for Paducah, I’ve still got Glenn Malone’s dog-eared business card, and I don’t think anyone would say we have rushed into a decision.  We’ve made a good one.  I’m completely comfortable in my support of the downtown hotel. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

No Dropped Balls

Maybe it's the picture perfect weather, but I'm in a bit of the festive mood this weekend.  I'm going to be positive, and nobody is going to stop me.  So there.

A little background is in order.  I was a board member of Paducah Renaissance Alliance, a.k.a., PRA until you all elected me to the city commission.  Essentially, the PRA is the National Mainstreet Program for Paducah. Its mission is historic preservation, economic development, promotion and organization.  A few months ago the PRA staff and director, for one reason or another, left the employee of the City.

This exodus left PRA without staff rather suddenly, and hence the accolades.

My first accolade is to Jeff Pederson, City Manager.  Jeff acted quickly to insure that there would be no dropped balls.  Staffing would be arranged from within to cover the bases efficiently and at little cost.  One of PRA's major goals this year was to have a study completed on the Colombia Theater's reuse.  Jeff kept the focus, and the study went ahead.

Steve Ervin, head of the Planning Department, gets my next accolade.  PRA had been working on an initiative of making certain our downtown core of buildings would not collapse due to bad roofs.  You may have known this by the name The Roof Stabilization Program.  The program has started, and it is a good first step in securing the fabric of our downtown.

Steve Ervin gets another accolade for applying the concepts of The Fountain Neighborhood Project to filling out the vacant lots in the LowerTown Arts District.  The first artist home should start soon, at no cost to the taxpayer, naturally. This was a PRA program under the guise of The Artist Cottage.

Steve Doolittle, PRDA director, gets my next accolade for accepting the challenge of economic development of downtown  properties.  And, yes there are a few new stores to show for his efforts.

I, of course, save the best accolade for last.  Jessica Perkins was the lone temporary hire to do all the marketing, writing, website inquiry.  You name it, and she did it.

While in this feeling of good tidings, maybe I'm most happy about using tax dollars for projects, not just staff for PRA.  I know something about this.  While on the board I helped select two directors that just were not the right fit, for them or us.

So there you have it, no dropped balls.  Your city had a department problem and together did yeoman's duty, and I thought you might like to know.

As the weekend comes to an end I guess I should revert to my negative, pessimistic and curmudgeonly self.  I must say I have enjoyed this respite and look forward to another festive mood in the near future.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Wolf by its ears

A wolf by its ears……..

I’ve never actually had a wolf by its ears, but I think I’m getting the idea with our Riverfront Park …..ah….situation.  First, some background, assuming you have lived under a tub or been on vacation to Mars these last few months.

From the first “proposed construction cost” document the “bump out” was estimated to cost about $50,000 more than the HUD Grant.  By the time the bids were received and rebid to lower the cost, the “bump out” had ballooned to $1,500,000 over budget.  I voted against this project.  A few weeks ago, the cost was raised by another $250,000 for the gangway pilings.  I voted against this also.  Last week, due to subsidence, we were told that we were now another $800,000 short to raise the “bump out” to the desired level.  The other commissioners are now waiting for more information before voting.  I will vote against these additional monies.  My last “wolf by its ears” fact is that the city spent $1,264,915 from the period 2008 thru 2013, which is in addition to the spending discussed above.  I wasn’t a commissioner to vote against this.

If the project stops right now, I suspect the city will be forced to spend some money to bring even the incomplete “bump out” into Corps of Engineers compliance.  We would have no choice but to comply.

So, where are we without spending the additional $800,000?  We have a rock pile some 20 feet below where it needs to be and therefore not usable for any purpose.  Whether the city spends the $800,00 or not, the gangway pilings that the entire marina service building, transient boat dock, and boat slips are attached to, will be finished. That was in the earlier $250,000 the commission approved by a 4 to 1 vote.  Remember, I voted “no.”

Your commissioner has an idea, maybe.  If all of us take a blood oath—the mayor
and commissioners—that we would not build the aforementioned marina service building, transient boat dock and boat slips, I would vote to finish the “bump out,” to make it into a riverfront park.  Understand, we would have to spend $800,000 of city money to do this.  If no agreement to use the funds to create only a park, then I vote “no” on any further spending.

This park--let’s call it “Festival Park” to give it a more positive image-- would be constructed for all to enjoy.  “Festival Park” would be approximately a three acre green space overlooking the Ohio River that all Paducahans, whether picnickers, frisbee players or river watchers, could enjoy.

The city has already been awarded a $3,811,000 Federal Highway Administration Grant, which we should be able to use for the park. The rest of the (unused) grants go back to their sponsoring agencies.

So there you have it.  The trick, of course, is not to let the wolf bite us as we let go of his ears.  Or should I say, not get bitten more severely than we already have been.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And so it goes

And so it goes

Sometimes things are not what they appear.  We have all heard this.  I suspect that everyone reading this blog has experienced this.  So here goes.

The Paducah Sun Editorial of August 20th, 2013, is a case in point, and I thought I might fill in a bit.  The Sun was correct in its assertion that Infiniti Media Group did make every payment, was given a grace period, and, alas, did not hire some 100 employees as promised.

Could the City have demanded the agreement be honored as to employment or throw Infinity into the street?  Of course, we could.  And with righteous indignation, we could have declared our right to do so.  We might have looked demonstrative in our action.  Sometimes, however, no action is the best action.  I think the taxpayers were well served by this “no action.” 

How so?  As the paper said, “They made their payments of nearly $34,000 per month.”  The payment was used to pay on the bonds that built the building, so we as taxpayers didn’t have to.  The building owner takes no equity with him as he leaves. 

Since there has been no company waiting in the wings, so to speak, to take over the Infinity building, is there anything wrong with allowing Infiniti to stay there and make their payments of $34,000 a month?  Not really, especially if, as the Sun said the city acknowledges that “companies should not be able to continue benefiting from incentives based on nothing more than promises repeated indefinitely.”  The key word here is “indefinitely.”

And, oh by the way, this “no action” was in place long before I arrived on the scene.

Sometimes things are not exactly as they appear.  And sometimes no action is the best action. 
And so it goes.