Last night we were forwarded an e-mail from Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Ryan Heck to his colleagues in opposition to a TIF (tax increment financing) project planned for the riverfront area between the main downtown area and the Exxon refinery. The project is called River Park, and the plan for it supposedly would include office space, condominiums, entertainment and retail.
But River Park, which has been in the works for several years, isn’t getting off the ground. And the developer is asking for the city-parish to kick in an extra tax on its property to pay for its construction.
And that’s where Heck comes in, to pour cold water on the project and inject some reality into the discussion…
It’s been a couple months since I’ve pulled out my soap box, but the River Park TIF contract that we will be voting on soon is an issue that dictates I grab it out of the closet and start preaching again.
Let me start with this statement: I think the development is great. I hope the developer successfully puts his deal together and creates what may end up being the premier retail / entertainment complex in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area.
We are again faced with a choice of picking winners and losers; giving taxpayer money to one developer, but not the other.
I’ve met with the developer of River Park and he is a credible guy. He’s a successful businessman. He’s obviously a risk taker, as this is a huge endeavor he has undertaken.
The developer has told me that the boardwalk, and the free parking, are all for the public good. Let’s get serious. If we provide this TIF, we are absolutely 100% BUYING this back from him, with interest. It’s for the good of his rents. It is, in effect. a tax that the voters haven’t approved. In fact, it’s almost funny that they will be paying for a government subsidized entertainment complex on the river, when the voters have specifically shot this idea down time and time again.
The developer REQUIRES the free parking and the boardwalk to entice visitors to his tenants. Without the parking and boardwalk, there is no incentive for customers to visit his development. It would likely be a failure. He must provide them in order to collect his rents. That’s standard practice anywhere you go. To call them a public benefit is simply misleading.
I’m sure most of us have followed the saga of Juban Crossing right across the parish line in Livingston. The developer fought and fought for increased government incentives, all the way up to the State Legislature. It passed, but was eventually vetoed by Jindal. The reason Gov. Jindal vetoed the bill is because it would have involved the state with picking winners and losers. I know first hand that the Mayor’s office lobbied hard for the veto, as did several other BR-centric groups. I myself sent a letter to Gov. Jindal requesting he veto the increased government participation in the project.
If it would have passed, there would have been a quantifiable negative effect on EBRP sales tax collections. Period. No doubt. It would have hurt the sales of many of our retailers here in Baton Rouge. Now our colleagues on the Livingston Parish Council have previously decided to create a TIF that pulls from their own municipal funds. After Gov. Jindal’s veto took place, the developer had his buddies on the council introduce an item that would have further bootstrapped the taxpayer to subsidize a private development. Luckily for the citizens of Livingston, the council decided that enough was enough.
My questions to you are this: Take out the part about the state $ being involved…. How is this any different? We’ll be subsidizing a private developer to cannibalize Ascension and Livingston’s tax base? And from other parts of our own parish? The Mall of Louisiana? Cortana? Perkins Rowe? Towne Center? All of these wonderful retail centers were developed without subsidies. Should we subsidize the merry-go-round in the Mall Of Louisiana because parents and children like it? Are we not all huge proponents of free market?. Isn’t our responsibility to make sure the playing field is even for all participants? Why should we insert taxpayer participation into this project in order to guarantee the success of a shopping complex?
LED and BRAC are our Economic development agencies. There are ZERO TIF programs for retail because all the experts agree that IT’S BAD PRACTICE. Please ask Ian Vasey, Jared Smith, Steven Moret…. The guys we actually pay to do this kind of analysis.
What has occurred in recent history is private business has figured out a corporate welfare strategy under the guise of “economic development”. We all want new cool stuff, and to grow the city. But retail TIF’s are not the correct instrument to get us where we want to be. Changing tax policy and structure, and creating a level playing field is the proper role of government.
There are 7 Republicans and 5 Democrats on this council. It’s kinda amusing that we can all come together and find common ground to give away the hard-earned money of our constituents at a breakneck pace.
We say we need funds for roads, bridges, and other very important public safety projects. Let’s stop our corporate welfare strategy, let the free market work, and change our spending priorities. Just a few months back, we denied a land owner the opportunity to rezone and sell his land on Hoo Shoo Too Road, because we have failed as a city to address our basic mandate to provide infrastructure. We are now going to write a blank check for a boardwalk that is not our responsibility to pay for?
I urge you to consider making this the time where we put our foot down and say “No more retail TIF’s in Baton Rouge”. If we do not take a firm stance, this will continue to be an issue until such time that we can no longer afford to provide basic services to the taxpayer.