City buys some time, saves face
What a devilish deal is redevelopment.
On the one hand, redevelopment’s promise of economic vitality can be alluring to cash-strapped local governments. On the other hand, the get-rich-quick solutions redevelopment offers can ensnare a community in short-term thinking.
Controlling redevelopment is never easy. With good planning, it can set the financial pace for an area. But with shortsightedness, redevelopment can steal the community’s soul.
That’s what happed in Carson City this week when officials offered up a county park and fairground to Wal-Mart as a location for its new store.
Forget the sucker punch Carson delivered to neighboring Douglas County, which thought it had a lock on the Wal-Mart deal. The last-minute maneuvering by Carson is business as usual for those two counties.
The real blow Carson leadership delivered in the Wal-Mart deal was to the community, robbing it of some of its soul. Fuji Park and the neighboring fairgrounds are Carson at its core. The rodeo grounds have kept the ranching tradition alive in this former frontier town, offering a summer full of rodeos, horse shows and county fairs. Fuji Park is a lovely spot in a county rapidly becoming an unbroken string of strip malls.
Fuji Park and the fairgrounds are the kind of community assets that can’t be measured in sale tax receipts. To eliminate such a wonderful spot, only to replace it with another retail megastore, is short-sighted. Once gone, the park and fairgrounds are gone forever.
Yet Carson leaders locked in on dollar signs, shooting down a community tradition for a more lucrative offer.
The city of South Lake Tahoe also came close to selling out last week. But the city’s problem was selling itself short, not bartering with community assets.
By extending its agreement with the developer for three years, the city side-stepped a costly problem and bought itself some time.
Right now the city can’t afford more redevelopment debt. While not completely leveraged, the city is in a real financial pressure cooker. The bill for redevelopment is beginning to sap city resources, and those resources won’t be replenished until the Park Avenue project is completed in a few years.
In the meantime, Charlie McDermid, a longtime Tahoe businessman with considerable influence, wants to get on with his project at the intersection of Pioneer Trail and U.S. Highway 50. It is a project McDermid has been discussing with the city for a long time.
With lower interest rates, the financial timing of the project may be right for McDermid, but it couldn’t be worse for the city. McDermid’s project hinges on the city purchasing the land for his proposed Hilton Garden Inn.
But the city can’t afford to purchase the property right now. Nor, necessarily, should it. While most redevelopment projects encompass some measure of public commitments, it is not etched in stone that a jurisdiction pick up the tab.
The city has given McDermid a good deal by allowing him exclusive rights to negotiate on the tract, which now includes the sites of the Jackpot Inn and Sierra Lodge. But it could be a deal the city regrets, particularly if a better offer comes along.
Nonetheless, the three-year extension give the city a chance to recoup some of its redevelopment outlay. It gives the economy some time to settle. And it saves taxpayers further financial risk at a time when the city is struggling to pay its bills.
While South Lake Tahoe has hardly tamed redevelopment, it has not sold the community’s soul for the flash of cash.
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