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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

To build anew or renovate the old, that is the question

I’ve been getting quite a lot of advice lately on what to do with city hall.  It is well meaning and obviously from the heart.  I get that.  I, regardless of what the advisors might think, am truly conflicted about which way I will lean in the final tally.

Having said all this, I think I might try to explain what is on my mind concerning city hall.  I had the great pleasure of meeting University of Tennessee’s James Mason several weeks ago in the basement of city hall.  I joined Bill Black in the city workshop.  Mr. Mason is quite the structural engineer, and I truly mean that.  He is worth a Google.  I came away from that hour thinking this guy is the quarterback throwing a “Hail Mary” pass in the final seconds of a very important football game. Ha, you didn’t think I knew about sports.  Last Tuesday, I had the repeated pleasure of listening to two of his talks on how we might save city hall.  Well, as to the roof canopy and earthquake stabilization anyway.  Tuesday night was his final talk to the commission.  You can watch it on the city’s website; it is really quite informative.

I did not say much that night, but I will now.  It would seem that we really have two options.  Yes, I know many will say that there is only one, save the city hall.  At the risk of being vilified by friends and others alike, I would say we have two courses of action.

Bacon, Farmer, Workman, the Paducah engineering firm, could be instructed to incorporate the Mason Plan with their own findings to come up with a revised plan.  By the way, one of the most intriguing parts of James Mason’s plan is that the city hall stays “in business” during the roof canopy repair and the earthquake remediation repair.  Additionally, these two critical parts are not interdependent on one another.  One could be done with the other done at a later date, funding wise.

The other idea is to right-size the city hall if it is to be a new building.  And here’s the thing, our city hall is some 60,000 sq. ft. in total while the basement takes up an astonishingly, half of it.  Sounds to me like we have been using, in the main, some 30,000 sq. ft. for our people to work in, not the 50,000 sq. ft. that has been bandied about.  Understand I’m no architect or engineer, but there must be a kernel of significance somewhere. Hopkinsville has such a 30,000 sq. ft. structure, and we could well learn from them the costs, advantages and disadvantages of their experience without going through the process of hiring an architect and all that entails to get this data for us. And this could be a real game changer, a smaller, truly efficient city hall.

So, there you have it.  Until we get a more accurate handle on the cost to redo an irreplaceable icon versus the cost of a plainer, more administrative type city hall building I will be hard pressed to decide.  I could use your forbearance on this point.  Don’t tell me that the existence of Paducah rests on this renovation of city hall, and if I don’t vote to save it then all our talk about historic this and UNESCO that is meaningless.  I am working hard on this one, I promise.  I can hardly get away from it.  Patience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Easy One

Many things in my city commission life get complicated.  It is a relief to occasionally come across a “piece of cake”.  As the detective Hercule Poirot might intone, we should rest the little grey cells.

The easy decision I’m speaking of is to keep the “train set” intact and get local people to paint it.  If all four pieces; locomotive, tender, combine and caboose simply stay put at the floodwall, this will pay tribute to our railroad heritage.  That is the least we owe them.  By doing the job locally with a retired VMV employee in the lead, I’m certain we can paint the train for less than $10,000.  That economy is what we owe you.

I need a rest from complicated decisions; this one is just too easy to pass.