Hiding the Ball in City Hall (Downtown Fayetteville)(UPDATED)


UPDATE 6/10/19

As predicted, the proposed amended contract on the City’s website for Fayetteville’s downtown parking deck was wrong. It mixed everything up.

Fortunately, we got some clarity at tonight’s meeting.

Unfortunately, the amendment is much worse for the public than the original deal. Aside from the cost increase of $1.5 million more tax dollars, the public is now squeezed out of the deck completely:

So now PCH is taking 460 spaces and the public will get to use a total of 32 spaces for the next 15 years.

PCH pays $1.66/day per space while the rest of Fayetteville is paying at least $5.00/day to park downtown.

In exchange for 1,500,000 million more tax dollars (above the original contract price) PCH has agreed to pay $41,965 more in annual taxes. Under these terms, it will take over 35 years for Fayetteville to recoup its money.

Tonight, I heard one City Council woman say that building a public deck for a private company was a “ludicrous idea.” She then voted to pay $1.5 million more to build a public deck for a private company. How else can you describe 460 out of 492 spaces at below-market rates???

So what do you think? Does it look like your tax dollars are being used for a public purpose? It’s a fairly important question if you’re concerned about the law and what not:

§ 160A-458.3.  Downtown development projects.

(a)        In this section, “downtown development project” means a capital project in the city’s central business district, as that district is defined by the city council, comprising one or more buildings and including both public and private facilities.  By way of illustration but not limitation, such a project might include a single building comprising a publicly owned parking structure and publicly owned convention center and a privately owned hotel or office building.

(b)        If the city council finds that it is likely to have a significant effect on the revitalization of the central business district, the city may acquire, construct, own, and operate or participate in the acquisition, construction, ownership, and operation of a downtown development project or of specific facilities within such a project.  The city may enter into binding contracts with one or more private developers with respect to acquiring, constructing, owning, or operating such a project.  Such a contract may, among other provisions, specify the following:

(1)        The property interests of both the city and the developer or developers in the project, provided that the property interests of the city shall be limited to facilities for a public purpose;

A Hunley Torpedo – Civil War Center Poll

The H.L. Hunley was one of the first submarines used in American war, created by the Confederate Army in Charleston, South Carolina. It was designed to sneak up on an enemy ship and stab a torpedo into its hull. The crew would then back the craft away and detonate the torpedo using a rope.

The Hunley sank twice in training exercises, killing one crew of five and another of eight. After each failure, it was raised from the bottom and adjustments were made.

Eventually, the Confederates succeeded, kind of. A third crew managed to sneak up on a Union Blockade ship outside of Charleston Harbor and detonate the torpedo, sinking the Union ship. The problem was the Hunley was too close to the torpedo when the crew set off the bomb, and they sank their own submarine. Another eight-man crew died.

The Hunley was raised off the bottom in 2000 and now sits in a museum in Charleston:

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Speaking of museums and torpedoes…

Yesterday afternoon, I published a post about the budgetary politics surrounding the North Carolina Civil War History Center in Fayetteville.

In light of Senator Ben Clark (D-Cumberland/Hoke) voting for the Republican-drafted, Senate budget that did not include funding for the Civil War museum, I wrote the following:

If this is going to get done, someone from the Cumberland County delegation is going to have to use political capital to make it happen. Either (Representative John) Szoka has enough swing within his own party to get the museum funded, or some Democratic legislator from Cumberland will agree to override Cooper’s veto if the money’s included. Senator Clark has already used up his capital by voting for a budget that didn’t include the funds for the museum, so look elsewhere.

It was apparent to me that Clark was not going to go out on a limb in support of the museum. What I didn’t expect was that he would try to torpedo the project a few hours later:

Clark gave an interview with the Fayetteville Observer calling into question the financial validity of the project. He argued that the City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County did not have to give $7.5 Million (each) in promised funds to the project because the museum had failed to reach benchmark fundraising goals from private and state sources.

When you combine Clark’s comments with Mayor Colvin’s recent criticism of the use of state funds for the museum, it is apparent there may be an effort in the community to sink the project.

This was not unexpected. You do not take an issue as politically charged as the Civil War, combine it with millions of tax dollars, and expect smooth sailing. It’s difficult to get state and local government officials on the same page for any project.

So I want to know what you think. In light of these developments, here’s some polling. Please vote. It’s anonymous.

Image result for hunley torpedo
Casing of Hunley’s Exploded Torpedo

Museums, Vetoes, and How the Sausage Gets Made

There are many balls in the air right now in the North Carolina legislature. Where several will land depend upon the whims of “moderate” democratic legislators. These men and women are the new “swing votes” that are needed by House and Senate Republicans to override a veto of any bill by Governor Cooper.

With this power comes great….well….power.

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We saw this play out in Cumberland County this week. African American and Democratic State Senator Ben Clark voted in favor of the Republican budget in the Senate. Why did he do it? A few lines from Paul Wolverton’s recent column may shed some light:

“On Facebook, Clark outlined things that drew his favor:

– $2.5 million for infrastructure at Fayetteville State University.

– $1 million to build an annex for the Hoke County Courthouse.

– Public School Construction money — $35 million for Cumberland County and $18 million for Hoke County.

– $20 million for construction at Fayetteville Technical Community College and $6.5 million for Sandhills Community College.

“It’s notable that neither the Fayetteville State University money nor the Hoke County Courthouse money were originally in the budget. Clark said he requested those two items.”

In sum, Clark got “his” or “his District’s” (whichever way you want to think about it) and was satisfied enough to vote with Republicans. A pessimistic person might say that Clark “sold out.” A practical person might say that’s how the sausage is made and Hoke and Cumberland could use a little pork right now.

Regardless, we have a lesson in how Republicans can accomplish their major priorities and weaken Governor Cooper by throwing bones to swing Democrats.

Now take that lesson and apply it to a bigger project with more money on the line: The Civil War Museum planned for Fayetteville:

Image result for nc civil war museum legislation fayetteville

Representative John Szoka introduced legislation to fund the museum back in April ($55 million over the next two years). Not much has happened with his legislation. More importantly, there’s no mention of the museum in the current Senate budget online.

If this is going to get done, someone from the Cumberland County delegation is going to have to use political capital to make it happen. Either Szoka has enough swing within his own party to get the museum funded, or some Democratic legislator from Cumberland will agree to override Cooper’s veto if the money’s included. Senator Clark has already used up his capital by voting for a budget that didn’t include the funds for the museum, so look elsewhere.

If you’re frustrated, the mayor of Fayetteville shares your concerns:

I wrote about Colvin’s about-face on the museum project in an earlier post. In light of what is happening in this year’s budget process, Colvin’s starting to make a lot of sense. His suggestion for our local delegation: use your political capital wisely on things we absolutely need, and we have lots of needs in Cumberland County right now.

Wrap-Up

It will be interesting to see whether local Democrats can join forces with Szoka and get the $55 million for Fayetteville. Maybe the more important question is what they will trade in the process. Does it mean siding against their Governor, effectively stripping him of his veto power? We’ll know soon enough.

Image result for sausage making

Whether you like it or not, this is how deals get done on Jones Street. Now’s the time to place your bet on how much cash trickles down I-40, merges onto 95-South, and finds a place at the top of Haymount Hill.

Minor League Airports

Back in January, I wrote a post about the Fayetteville airport that included some polling.  The polls are still live, so feel free to vote:

The results so far are pretty clear:

  1. Overwhelmingly, people in this area would rather fly out of Fayetteville; and
  2. These same people fly out of other airports at least 50% of the time, often driving to RDU or Charlotte.

This demonstrates an untapped market.  People will use the Fayetteville airport if it gets them where they need to go at a reasonable price.  And maybe, just maybe, they might pay a little bit more if they could get a cup of Starbucks in a lobby that didn’t make them feel like Elvis was about to get off of the next plane on his way to play the Cumberland County Arena.

But even The King avoided our airport, flying into Pope instead:

Image result for elvis fayetteville nc

Which leads me to the point of this post…

Our airport came back up today when the Observer reported that we’re scaling back our current renovations in a big way.  In short, our airport’s not going to be as nice as we had planned.  The costs to do it the right way went up about 10 Million dollars, so we’re pulling a minor-league move and scaling it back.

Are we doomed to mediocrity in this town?  Sometimes it feels like it.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way?  Maybe we just need a new vision…

Put on your thinking cap and come with me as we leave the 35th parallel and enter the land of pure imagination:

imagination

Yes we can!  Imagine that our City will finally create some first-class infrastructure, a 21st-century gateway that will become a regional hub for southeastern North Carolina.  All we need to do is pitch in an extra Ten Million Dollars. 

Of course, we don’t have the money right now, but we could borrow it!  Surely there is a form of financing that cities can use for capital projects like airports that spur economic growth, increase the tax base, and create jobs!?  After all, an airport is open to the public and benefits the community as a whole!  Perhaps there’s even a University nearby with a school full of smart people that assist cities in doing these types of deals??  Don’t we already know some of these people!?

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Now, come back to reality.

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This is Fayetteville, after all.

Borrowing Millions, “Just In Case” (UPDATED)

UPDATE:  5/13/19

In a surprising move, The Fayetteville City Council voted 5-4 against borrowing additional money to fund the Prince Charles Holdings (PCH) parking deck downtown.

vote

In short, my prediction in the post below was incorrect.

But this is one time that I’m happy to be mistaken.  The mayor and the four other “no” votes should be commended for finally standing up for the taxpayers of Fayetteville.  It was a small win for responsible government and fiscal sanity.  It also demonstrates the power of shining sunlight on these deals.  The local press and the community finally began looking at the fine print.  Our elected leaders followed suit.  That’s how the process is supposed to work.

So where do we go from here?

Just over a month ago, PCH representatives told the council that they were not certain they could finish the planned Hyatt hotel and offices on top of the deck without the additional money from the city.  Well, the council has called their bluff.  The current contract price of 14.7 million is still in place and still enforceable.

Time will tell whether the council members will hold this position and whether PCH will honor its contractual obligations.

I have a feeling that this isn’t the end of the story.


 

ORIGINAL POST

Tonight, the Fayetteville City Council will vote to borrow millions more to build a parking deck to service a private corporation while it continues to raise parking rates on the general public downtown.

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However, the council will not be up front about it, at least not at first.  Instead, we will hear the same lip-service we heard the last time this issue came up, things like:

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“We’re not making the decision to spend the money today.”

“We’re just giving ourselves the option in the future by making sure the money’s available.”

“We can always give the money back if we decide not to spend it.”

In other words, you’re going to be lied to.  They’ve already calculated the interest on the money they’re going to borrow, to the dollar.  It’s a done deal.

In case you’re wondering, it’s going to cost Fayetteville citizens another $2,136,682 to placate Prince Charles Holdings (PCH).  Otherwise, they may just pack up their crane and go home, and we can kiss our Hyatt Hotel goodbye.  Maybe then we could use the parking deck??

Along those lines, you’ll probably hear from other concerned downtown business owners at tonight’s meeting as well.   Apparently, people don’t want to go eat at a restaurant or buy a cup of coffee if they have to pay 10 bucks to park nearby.  Who could’ve seen that coming?  By the way, there’s seven home baseball games in a row this week.  That’s a lot of missed revenue.

Since we’re playing with dollars now, remember that the reason given by the council for charging the public increased parking fees was that Fayetteville was losing approximately $250,000/year in downtown parking.  “Free parking isn’t free,” they said.

My son is into division right now and he’s pretty good at it.  He might be able to tell you that $250,000 will go into 2 million about eight times.

So…. we could:

  1. Not give PCH this extra money;
  2. Keep downtown parking “as is” (mostly free); and
  3. Remain in the same financial position until 2027.

But we won’t do that.  It makes too much sense.

In the end, the council members have already made up their minds, and they are going to give PCH everything it wants.  The success (or at least the appearance of success) of this project is too important to them, politically.  It’s the tallest albatross in town.

I just wish they’d be up front about it.