Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Condamning the Condamners

As you might expect, I'm not a big fan of government coming in and taking over private property. That's why I have to raise an eyebrow when I hear about the city of Oshkosh having an independent appraisal done on the Pioneer Inn property. Yes, I understand the frustration in having nothing done on the site for more than four years now--but how is getting government involved in the process really going to move things along?

Let's play out this process hypothetically. Let's say the appraisal comes in right around the price Decade Properties is asking for the site. What have you accomplished then? Or let's say the appraisal comes in at less than what Decade is seeking. Have you just given them ammunition to request lower property tax payments based on the city's "new valuation" of the site? Maybe they could get a refund like several other commercial properties in the city have been getting the last few months for overinflated property values.

And just how do you force someone to sell an asset? They aren't making any more lakefront property--so even just holding on to what is there is still a viable economic decision for Decade. Sure they should spend a little bit more to get the graffiti off the remaining building walls and maybe do a little more landscaping--but so long as people want to live or recreate around water--the land sitting next to the water will be a golden egg.

My least-favorite idea is for the city to "help market" the property. I've heard this term used around several less-than-successful "marketing" efforts. How long has Oshkosh been "marketing" the Marion Road Redevlelopment area? How about the city of Kaukauna "helping to market" the former greyhound track site? And the village of Kimberly "marketing" the former Newpage paper plant? If people at City Hall were experts in marketing and selling property, they would be in the private sector making money marketing and selling property.

And that brings us to the "nuclear option": condamnation of the Pioneer. Mayor Paul Esslinger and City Manager Mark Rohloff said Monday on WOSH that condamnation was not the main goal of having the appraisal done--and that they would "prefer not to have the city own the property." But if Decade opts to continue sitting on the property and not moving forward with any condo or hotel project, that could be the only way some at City Hall would see "progress" being made there. Decade might get it's fair market value for the property--but would taxpayers? If people who make their living developing property think the market is too bad right now to invest anything in a new project--where would the city find another buyer? And would we go through the cycle of hope and despair that we have seen with Marion Road as proposal after proposal falls through for lack of funding or ability to actually sell units. And I'd be willing to bet that anything done down there would include Tax Incremental Financing and a land sale price of one dollar.

So think long and hard, City Council members before stepping into the real estate development world again.

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