Opinion: Another Renaissance folly

Lockwood Marine has written an op-ed piece for the Journal-Gazette regarding the Renaissance Square purchase.

He has graciously consented for it to be reprinted here, along with some other information and analysis the JG left out.

Another Renaissance folly

The Henry administration is not serving the city well. Wasting money on so-called “downtown development projects” (Calhoun Street) and now floating its own project named Renaissance (Square) are examples. With police headquarters as an excuse, the administration is now pushing the project to create a legacy and provide separate quarters for the City while wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.

A majority of our City council appears to have bought into the City’s estimates of space needs and exaggerated costs to upgrade or replace the FWPD headquarters. They argue that after twenty years the City will own its own headquarters building at no extra cost to taxpayers but ignore the $1.5 – $2.0 million annual operating costs for utilities, maintenance and capital additions for Renaissance Square.

Our City government has made two key errors; (1) they have lost sight of the proper roles of government; and (2) their ongoing decisions and actions not supported by the public have created a lack of credibility. The construction/ownership of specialized facilities such as fire halls, jails and courthouses is a proper function of government but the purchase of office buildings by government entities is a very debatable role and is a poor use of taxpayer funds. The argument is being made that we need to provide an optimal work environment for City employees to boost morale and efficiency and that, like individuals, the City should buy buildings rather than lease them. Businesses understand that a proper work environment adds to morale and productivity, but they also know that office buildings are a poor investment and that other uses of their capital provide better returns to stakeholders. Headquarters buildings provide a poor return for shareholders or taxpayers. Office buildings are a poorer investment for government bodies than for businesses. That is one of the reasons for the trend toward government leases of postoffices, IRS processing centers, records centers, etc.

When individuals buy homes they are doing two separate but related things: buying shelter and accumulating equity/wealth. Government bodies need to purchase office/operating space services but have no justification for taking extra taxpayer funds to create wealth in the form of buildings. Taxpayers should keep those extra funds to spend or save and invest as they see fit. Investors can almost always provide office space cheaper on a total cost basis than buildings financed by larger tax payments. Savings to Allen County taxpayers from leasing rather than buying would be especially significant now that there is a surplus of local office space/commercial buildings available.

The Henry administration and a majority of City Council have lost credibility with taxpayers and risk losing more. Failure to enforce provisions of the defaulted contracts for condos with Hardball Capital, unnecessary reconstruction of Calhoun Street and the proposed purchase of Renaissance Square have already squandered or put in jeopardy several million dollars of taxpayer funds during the worst recession and highest unemployment in decades. While the State government is cutting budgets by 10-20% and freezing all construction projects due to revenue shortfalls of $40 million per month, CEDIT funds are shrinking, and property tax caps are about to cause huge hits in City and County revenues, the City pushes ahead with projects totaling $16-$20 million financed with borrowed funds.

Credibility also has been hurt by the poor transparency and failure to release information that includes all costs for City and Allen County taxpayers and that greatly exaggerates space needs of City departments with no justification or explanation of space standards employed. (An example is FWPD needs increasing from 35,000 currently used to 80,000 sq. ft.).

The analysis below is based on the best available information provided to the public plus estimates from knowledgeable Fort Wayne real estate professionals. Any of the options except finding alternate space for the FWPD and leaving all other departments in their current space and location will cost Allen County/Fort Wayne taxpayers $2.2 Million per year or $44 Million over the twenty year proposed payoff of Renaissance Square.

One has to ask why the City has not presented a similar independent and objective analysis to City Council and the public. Why did City Council not ask the tough questions about the overall costs/benefits to the Fort Wayne/Allen County taxpayers? County Council did its job by recognizing the overall costs to its taxpayers and limiting the County contribution of capital to the $3 million previously approved for a new Sheriff’s headquarters.

There is still time for City council to do its duty to constituents by demanding full disclosure of all aspects of this project, rescinding their approvals of the purchase of Renaissance Square and the bond to finance it, and sending the City Administration back to the drawing boards. Anything less would be a gross abrogation of their duty to the taxpayers they were elected to represent.

Information needs to analyze Renaissance Square options vs. other Fort Wayne Police Department space, also written by Lockwood:

  1. Realistic space estimates for various city departments and standards/methods used for the estimates.
  2. Projected amount and interest rate for the Renaissance Square purchase and renovation bond.
  3. Related costs for various options such as furniture, moving costs, closing costs and bond fees, and “consultants.”
  4. Realistic projections of operating and ongoing capital costs for Renaissance Square and methods/assumptions used in their calculations. Published estimates are $5.83/sq. ft. vs. actual C-Costs of $7.89 sq. ft.
  5. Estimates of costs to digitize FWPD records vs. costs to provide storage for hard copy (to the extent permitted by law) – and space needs eliminated.
  6. Detailed cost estimates for leasing, renovating and operating alternate sites for FWPD – including multiple sites as appropriate for office space, storage, etc.
  7. Same information for Sheriff’s Department
  8. Market value estimates and actual operating costs for “outlying” county facilities such as the Courthouse Annex. Are they all owned/paid for by the county?

Also download Lockwood’s Renaissance Square City/County space options analysis

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