Being “open for business” means never having to say you’re wary.
That’s especially true when two development suitors come courting. Each is developing land on the south side of Cedar Rapids, including property owned by The Gazette Co., parent company of this newspaper. Developers are pledging to sink millions of dollars into offices and “upscale” warehouses. Dozens of jobs will come some day, from job creators to be named later.
Property tax abatements are needed to make those plans come true, along with three little words: Urban Revitalization Area. On Tuesday evening, the city council began its embrace of both.
“In this community, we had a choice to be a fader, a maintainer or a gainer,” said Mayor Ron Corbett, speaking in favor of the projects, saying the city is “open for business” and can’t afford cold feet.
So don’t try to stop the gain train, or slow it down.
Council member Scott Olson, a commercial Realtor, argued that the abatements could mess up the market for other office and warehouse space, and are being handed out even though we don’t yet know the identities of the job-creating tenants. Will they be new, or pulled from elsewhere in the city? And, in reality, nothing is being revitalized in these urban revitalization areas.
“I think we’re sending the wrong message,” Olson said.
Council member Don Karr insists that the deals are unfair to existing businesses. One of those businessmen, Jeff Busse, who sank $11 million into warehouse space, argued that tax breaks would tilt the playing field. The developers, and the Metro Economic Alliance, dispute that, and argue that these are high-end developments the city needs.
I’m sure these are great projects. What bugs me is now that Cedar Rapids is open for business, it seems like raising concerns or attempting to draw prudent lines is dubbed fader talk. Critics’ concerns about these projects were compelling, but they were no match for the notion that even a delay to further weigh the implications would harm our gain-mentum. Unthinkable.
When the government does economic development, its goal should be to expand, improve and innovate in ways that benefit the entire community. When city help might hurt existing taxpaying businesses, it’s time to pause and step back. We can be open and still set reasonable limits.
That’s not fading, it’s gaining a more balanced perspective.