Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Independent Weekly: News: Features: Imagine Dix

Pittsburgh's former mayor, Tom Murphy, working with the Urban Land Institute, showed up in another town, Raleigh, North Carolina, to trumpet pin-headed development on a green field space that goes against the will of the locals who have visions and desires for high quality community spaces.
Independent Weekly: News: Features: Imagine Dix: "And to steal a phrase from former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, another member of the ULI team, talking about how Raleigh's approached other big land-use decisions 'for a while here'—'It'll do.'"

Tom Murphy says, "It will do."

Tom Murphy might as well said, "Aim low. Don't miss."

Tom Murphy might as well said, "Talk is cheap, poor citizens. Control of the land can be leveraged into influence with speculators and developers."

The problem is, Tom Murphy's price tag is too low. Way too low.

Furthermore, when the hint of new money comes onto the scene, Tom Murphy can't close the deal without another endless string of compromises that all break in the favor of the the private interest, new money developer and against the public's benefit.

He'll undercut the financial advantages by being cheap on one hand. And on the other hand he'll devalue what could be grand and cheapen the outcome.

Finally, layers of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt), plus complexity and secret negotiations (smoke) that spin into leases the size of phone books make deals that take generations to unravel.

Dorethea Dix, back in 1848 founded a great institution for some needy people. Those folks then -- and to this time -- are not a high priority for Tom Murphy. No way. Don't be fooled. And, he used to be in the Peace Corps. Go figure how much he's changed.

Healthcare, wellness and service to the mentally ill won't have a snow-ball's chance of making it into his priority list. Blades of grass will have much greater weight, only behind retail and upscale, lower-density housing that's easy to build and sell.

Here comes more trouble.
The heart of the ULI scheme, though, is its development plan, which calls for a Dix Campus Development Corp.—members appointed by the state, the city and NCSU—to develop 1.2 million square feet of office and retail space (including 800,000 square feet for DHHS) and 1,400 single- and multi-family housing units.
A development corporation is an authority. It amounts to overlords without any accountability. It turns citizens into serfs. Its formation puts the mayor, governor and future political leaders into a zone of fruitlessness. The authority will take on a life of its own and never sunset and always strive to grow itself.

First off, demand referendums. Put these big questions to the people to vote. Should the Dix property be sold or retained by the state? -- Yes -- or -- No --.

Second, demand that the property be made available for sale, if it is to be sold, by bids and at auctions. Sell five lots, for example, in year 1, then five more in year 5, and the last five in year 10. Each goes to an open bid or auction.

If you want to make this a private development -- put it into a real private corporation, not some developement company formed for this sake. The private corporations should have stock owners and grow private equity and be a real marketplace player.

Third, don't settle for some appointements to a board for cronies for a development corporation. That doesn't work and should not be part of a democratic, free, open society.

If you have to have a goofy development corporation / authority, then you need to insist that people be elected to those seats. And, they need to be retained in those seats with retention votes. Look into some new-age campaign finance reform election process, perhaps as if you elect school board members or student government at NC State. Insist on five public forums on public TV -- and a limit of $500 in campaign finances -- or else the candidate is knocked off the ballot.

The Urban Land Institute is a cancer to democracy and that's why Tom Murphy fits in so well with those scemes.

The $40-million price tag is a red flag. That amount will decline even lower. The land will sell on the cheap. This is why a bid and auction is necessary.

Pennsylvania rushed to sell casino licenses for $50-million. But, they could have sold for more than $400-million each. But, that bid / auction would have cut out the middle-man politicians eager to cut the deals and gain in power / popularity.

The other red flag is the hype where "IF Raleigh can raise $10 million of that from private contributors, ..." You don't want good foundation money -- from private contributors -- to go into land deals. The $10-million he seeks to grab comes from out of your churches, from out of your libraries, from out of your scholarship funds, from out of your soup kitchens, from out of your angle investors.

Do deals that pull their own weight on their own merits without other layers of subsidizations. Don't allow for other vested interests to muddy the waters nor hi-jack valued funds for other viable community efforts, say the next park over.


gercohen said...

actually, Dix came in 1848, not 1948.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Thanks Jerry. Typo is now fixed.