When someone tries to sell you something, say a used car, and adds pressure to the mix, say a phantom buyer who wants the car you are eyeing, that is the time you should back off and make sure you are making a logical move. Panic leads to poor decisions.
So if a developer is trying to sell a city on a project and things are so twitchy that the deal will crumble if they don’t get everything they want, that is the time to go slow. If it falls apart quickly, that’s better than it falling apart later — say after you started spending public dollars and made changes that cannot be undone.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert basically made that point recently while talking about the $3 million in sewers extended to two projects — the Hofbräuhaus restaurant and hotel complex and Parkway West homes and offices. The Hofbräuhaus is two years late. The Parkway West project also will be two years late, if the office building construction begins in the spring as promised.
City leaders have built guarantees and deadlines into other development agreements. But not into the development agreement with the Hofbräuhaus.
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“If they couldn’t have delivered and we would have what? Stopped, you know, dig up the sewer?” Eckert said.
He said penalties would have “killed” the Hofbräuhaus.
So back to the opening point: if performance guarantees on the front end would “kill” a project, maybe that’s not a project you should back with public dollars. Maybe development deals need a timetable. The Hofbräuhaus only gets money from taxes that it generates, which is a good thing, but maybe the amount it receives should be tied to that timetable and other performance benchmarks.
If a developer comes along with his hand out for public dollars, performance guarantees and deadlines seem like a basic protection for taxpayers.
Extending the sewers out to those properties will eventually pay off regardless of the ultimate fates of either project, but shouldn’t a developer feel some pain if a city spends money on their behalf and that developer fails to come through? Shouldn’t the public see a timely return on its investment?
Here’s hoping the projects succeed. Here’s hoping city leaders will be prepared to walk away from any salesman who won’t guarantee their promises.