Pathological Community Development, Paid For By You, Me, and Me Again
I do my best thinking at night. At least, that is how I justified my late-night walk this week through downtown St. Louis, where I could not help but feel a sense of utter helplessness. It was not simply seeing “Space Available” signs on every corner that prompted my emotional response; rather, it was my understanding that the slack in the retail, housing, and office markets represents a striking illustration of government’s inability to intelligently deploy our limited public resources.
After all, the image above is representative of dozens of corners recalled to ‘life'” with public funds in what some term “a vital pillar of Missouri’s economy.”
At present, the above-pictured TIFed and tax credited property is home to a small chain retailer, thousands of vacant square feet, quite a few presumably sold condominiums, two dozen available condominium units ranging in price from $250,000 to more than $750,000, many presumably leased apartments, and some parking.
If this building and its appearance were solely the products of truly private investments, I would feel far less concerned about its future. However, given that the city of St. Louis is going to start making me pay for trash service, I get a little upset when passing empty corners like the one pictured above.
All levels of government irresponsibly allow private actors to externalize their risks and costs to the public. In times of austerity like those that we now confront, these long-term public debt obligations increasingly become a drain on our individual resources.
So, how much did the corner shown above cost Missouri taxpayers? More than $30 million. (And likely more than $40 million, assuming that it also utilized the 20-percent federal historic preservation tax credit.)