Sunday, November 15, 2015

Its Beauty is on the Inside.

I’m going to get this out there on the front end; people who spend the nights in our hotels should pay for the Dome relocation.

Let me explain as simply and briefly as I can.  As you know there is always a Transient Room Tax wherever you stay in a hotel.  This tax is 6% in Kentucky.  3% to the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1% to the operation of the Convention/Expo Center and 2% to the debt service of convention facilities in the downtown area.  Not including the three announced new hotels, the Transient Room Tax is growing at 3% per year, and that is a very conservative number.

We are not going to water last year’s crops on what might have been.  What do we know today?  Paducah has a contract for adequate Quilt Show space. The April Quilt Show is 5 months distant.  Quilters love the Dome. I am committed to the Quilt Show. Kentucky Tourism Department numbers put the tourism dollars at north of $25 million dollars from visitors representing 46 of our 50 states.  You may also throw in 10 foreign countries.  However, the Convention/Expo Center is far from having a “no space available” sign out the rest of the year.

I’m pretty sure you like my fiscally conservative ways.  I haven’t gone off the rails on this one, I assure you.  The Convention Center Board has voted to accept the Dome.  This is a more fiscally conservative step than contracting for building out the old “Showroom” Lounge at a cost of up to $6 million depending on level of finish.  Now, the McCracken County Fiscal Court has to allow the Transient Room Tax to pay for three bonds to make this happen.  Briefly, these bonds will pay for relocation the Dome in 2016.  In 2020, bonds will be used for Convention Center upgrades, and bonds in 2023 will do additional Convention Center upgrades   The Transient Room Tax will pay off the bonds in 2032. 

The Convention Center has a contract to provide convention space, meaning the city is obligated to pay for the relocation expense.  But why not let the Transient Room Tax, a tax that is paid by non-residents, pay for the Dome relocation.  I’m asking the Fiscal Court to vote yes, to help the Convention Center Board to get this done.  

This is the real beauty of the Dome.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Wolf by its ears…..adios

I don’t why I’m even writing about the Schultz Park, a.k.a. bump out, rock pile, and other pejoratives.  I’m pretty sure the vote this Tuesday night will be another 4 to 1 vote to spend the $3 million to more or less finish the Schultz Park and appliances (340 foot dock, potable water, fueling and electrical power outlets) for the transient boaters.  All 698 of them.

Not that any commissioners are listening, but we could spend the proposed $240,000 finishing the park area which is O.K. since there is already a lot of Paducah dollars sunk in it.  I know the Schultz Park only spending would benefit the most Paducahans by skipping some $2.75 million that would go to the vanishingly small number of boaters who will actually use the dock and its appliances.

The dock, water, electrical and fueling could be deferred.  The 12 black steel pipes could stay and when money allows, then build out the aforementioned dockage and appliances.

I know, that the landside area between the new Holiday Inn Hotel and the Schultz Park will have to be addressed. I know it cannot stay as a blasted out debris field. I know the spending on Schultz Park is not about the landside park. I know the money not spent doing the dock and all its appliances in Schultz Park could be a partial payment on the landside park area.  My guess is that savings would cover about 30% of the total park build out or nearly 50% of a more basic park.

As Pat Ranval said in a letter to the editor in the Sunday Paducah Sun,” It is time to reimagine the strategy.”

The thing is, we can’t have everything that glitters, we just can’t. 

Well, here’s to the third and final 4 to 1 vote unless you all can persuade two other “yes” commissioners to vote “no” with me.

Interestingly, the rock pile has become very much my shadow.  I’ll miss my shadow.  Well, not really.

Friday, July 3, 2015

You just don’t incentivize retail jobs. Sorry.

First, I have no axe to grind about Menards. They have been an Indy 500 sponsor during the “stock block” Buick engine cars, and I am a car guy, so, I like Menards.

Let’s try to wade into this without getting too wet.

Paducah needs jobs to grow--I get that.  But we need to grow sustainable wage jobs, and if I am going to spend city dollars, then I choose to bring higher wage jobs.  We simply do not have the luxury of an unlimited amount of incentive dollars to spread around.

There is a lot of discussion about T.I.F. (tax increment financing) being used to get a Menards.  Here is what I think is the key to using T.I.F. from my study on the Kentucky League of Cities website.  “But for” is the key in my mind.  Meaning that the project would not exist “but for” this type of financing.  T.I.F. must meet one of several thresholds, all based around redeveloping an economically deprived area.  Hence the “but for.”  I cannot make a case for the mall area as being an economically deprived area.  I just can’t.

Just so you know, when Lowes, Walmart, and Home Depot came to the mall area they built the access roads leading to their stores as part of their commitment to Paducah, not the other way around.

Then there is the “moral hazard” of incentivizing one retail chain over others.  Sort of like picking winners and losers.  I can’t justify this.  And let’s be deadly honest.  Will the addition of these new stores bring in additional business or will business simply be taken from the existing businesses?   My guess is there will be some additional business, but they will be much redistribution of the business already here.  But again, we will have given a competitive advantage to one group over others. 

My business sense is that if a national retail chain wants to have a presence in the tri-state area, then they will build stores in Cape, Marion-Carbondale, and Paducah.  My bet is that they will come here, to Paducah, incentive or not.  My business sense also is that some business people want to extract every nickel out of the deal to fatten their balance sheet.  I just don’t want it to be our nickel.

Well, those are my thoughts on this deal.  I’m doing the best I can for all of us.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

A wolf by its ears, the nightmare continues.

The Paducah Sun Editorial of 6-7-2015 was “spot on” the nightmare known as Schultz Park.  I have been your city commissioner for nearly 30 months, and this is my third blog post on the riverfront debacle.  As you remember, I alone have voted against this riverfront concept.  I wish it were my last blog post on this subject, but don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately, I know little more than what has been publically released on the latest bids for the project.  My guess is that the City Engineering Staff, along with our local engineering firm Bacon Farmer and Workman, will re-evaluate the bid and make suggestions to Paducah Riverfront Development Authority for a way forward.  After those meetings, I presume I will get a look at the recommendations.

In anticipation, I have a few thoughts, some of which are not new. 

Remember, we have about $5 million in grants to spend on the “bump-out” at the Schultz Park site ($3.8 million from the Federal Highway Administration, and $1.2 million from the Boating Infrastructure Grant, including $300,000 of local money).  At this writing, the bids under consideration are higher than the two grants.  Every dollar we spend that exceeds these two grants we will have to use local tax dollars to continue work on other parts of the project (the Executive Inn site, in this case).  It doesn’t make sense to me to have one part of a project finished to one degree and another part to a lesser degree. 

Remember, we (federal and local taxpayers, at about a 50/50 split) are already into this to the tune of about $6.0 million.  Add the above grants to finish Schultz Park, and top it off with the potential $10 million for the Executive Inn site park, barring any federal bag of cash landing in our laps, and we (and the federal government) are on the way to 20 million bucks-- a breathtaking sum of money.

Remember, too, that we went with the out-of-town design firm of J.J.R. for the Schultz Park site.  Where has J.J.R. been for the last 30 months of this project?  Well, I haven’t seen them here. Certainly it would have been better to have had a local firm in the trenches with us as we clawed our way forward.

Again, we should only spend the federal dollars on Schultz Park and see what we might have, while reserving some local money for the Executive Inn site park for a bit later.  Would the Schultz Park be incomplete? Sure.  Useable? Probably, at least for most people.  Expandable, when we have the financially ability to do so? Of course.

The saga moves on, and I suspect we will talk again. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I’m still thinking about City Hall.

It has been a week and I have a few more thoughts to share on City Hall. I must start with the caveat that I am neither an architect nor an engineer.  But I am someone who has been chosen (at least for now) by the people of Paducah to look out for both the city’s finances and its character. And I’m starting to think that tearing down the old City Hall building and starting fresh is not necessarily the way to go.

If we instead chose to renovate the old building, we would have the unique opportunity to make some changes that would put parts of it to better use. Take for example the way we could use the spaces in the building that are underutilized now. What about moving the staff of Parks and Recreation to the basement offices and closing the old Parks and Rec building?  Yes, the Senior Citizen Program would have to find a new home, maybe (as a first thought) the Convention Center. The old building is terrifically inefficient, energy-wise.  Could it be sold and have those savings redeployed in the City Hall? Could E911 and IT Department be moved into City Hall and those buildings disposed of? That could also create some savings.

That’s just one thought, but there really are lots of changes we could make to the City Hall we have now that would allow it to be just as useful as new building.

Another thought of mine is the aesthetics of the building. I’ve talked to people who love how it looks and people who hate how it looks, and we’ll never get a consensus there. But know this—there will never be another built like it. It was intended to make a statement about Paducah, and it has been part of the fabric of Paducah’s history since 1964. Shiny new things sound exciting, but that’s because nobody wants to think about the fact that when you bulldoze a piece of history you can never get it back.

I’m especially concerned now because of the RFQ (“Request For Qualifications,” which is where we advertise for hiring an architect) that the City has had out, and the accompanying timeline. This timeline calls for us to have an architect chosen in only slightly more than six weeks, and the design for the new building completed in January of next year. Are we that sure that we want a new City Hall in the first place? Where’s a comparison of the costs of building vs. renovating? We still do not know. Don’t we need a better—smarter—idea of what we need to do before we rush off and choose who we want to do it?

I know I am an impatient person who is going to slow down on this because this is an opportunity to really get it right for all of us. So, I’m still thinking about all this and you should too. Let me know what you think.