What Is The Matter With Columbia?
Since 2005, the City of Columbia has entered into the business of subsidizing development in a big way. The Columbia City Council approved its first Tax Increment Financing (TIF) project in 2009 and is considering another one.
In 2010, the city actually bought property for $3 million in order to lease it to IBM for $1 (yes, just a dollar) for at least 10 years. In fall 2011, the Columbia Missourian reported that IBM had hired just 101 full-time employees, far short of the 800 jobs promised.
It may not be a tax subsidy, but it is certainly a failed bet: The city has also built a very expensive parking garage that garishly lights up downtown Columbia in the evenings. The Missourian has reported that it costs more than $3,000 each month to keep the lights on in that garage. Of course, the cost of the parking lot is $21 million, and its parking revenue appears to have been paltry.
To this former Columbia resident, the city’s development bets seem contrived. The City Council, hoping for a better hotel, approved a large TIF for the Regency Hotel site on Broadway (demolition site pictured above). In my humble opinion, if the replacement of any hotel in Columbia could merit subsidy, I would nominate the Arrow Head Motel, which looks a little worse for the wear.
Now, the Columbia City Council is moving aggressively forward to allow for the awarding of Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) subsidies. The City Council voted 7-0 on Monday to set up an EEZ board, the first step needed to hand out EEZ development subsidies, despite the fact that many people showed up to protest that move.
What, exactly, is wrong with Columbia? The unemployment rate in the Columbia metropolitan statistical area is lower than the rest of Missouri. Columbia has a large college campus that guarantees a certain level of sales tax revenue and occupied apartments. It hosts football games that draw even more commercial activity to the city.
And yet, Columbia officials argue that a large swath of their downtown should be considered “blighted” and that the city needs development subsidies.
I wonder, to what success are those officials looking? I have pointed out before (in a Columbia newspaper) that TIF has a very poor track record on both sides of the state when it comes to creating long-term growth.
The Wall Street Journal just highlighted Kansas City’s bad development bets. The Saint Louis area’s use of development incentives has been so inefficient that we have spent more than $370,000 per job created. And the Associated Press just reported that the Kansas City development incentive border war has resulted in $750 million in incentives spent to move jobs across state lines.
Development subsidies that taxpayers fund are no way to provide long-term economic growth. But if Columbia’s city officials are itching to get into the development game, they should do so with their own money, and on their own time.