Chattanooga’s downtown markets are remarkably strong, stronger than most anyone could have imagined just a couple of decades ago. Thanks to massive public investments in infrastructure and amenities, developers and businesses now find downtown an attractive place to invest private capital. Though additional development incentives were needed in the early years to subsidize private investments, most such incentives are just giveaways now.
A giveaway is not a strategy. It’s not even an action verb. It’s a noun. A giveaway is something that belongs to taxpayers but is handed over for private interests to claim as profit, personal income, and whatever other private gains are hidden in the “soft costs” of the project.
Considering all the wealth that will be generated by all the development the MLK Boulevard extension will service, taxpayers should require the developers to make the street improvements and dedicate the reconstructed right-of-way to the city for maintenance. That is the way market driven development is done elsewhere. For all practical purposes, the roadway already exists and only needs to be improved anyway. The project simply does not need TIF, that is, unless this so-called “strategy” depends entirely on the taxpayers to meet the “needs” of just this one Nashville real estate developer. The MLK extension does not and should not depend on that. There are surely other developers less needy.
By law, TIF is for “blighted areas.” This is not a blighted area by any stretch of the imagination. It is dishonest to try to pass this TIF proposal’s purpose off as having anything to do with eliminating blight. To claim that in the “economic impact plan” raises serious, very serious ethics questions, both political and professional. To take a financial resource dedicated to blighted areas and give it away to wealthy developers in one of the hottest commercial markets in the state, is to quite literally steal from the poor to give to the rich. For that reason, this TIF proposal raises serious, very serious moral questions as well. Indeed, this TIF proposal is about the most blatant, obvious, and shameful example of poverty pimping I have ever seen, and that statement is coming from someone who has done an awful lot of professional work on behalf of the poorest communities in this country. (I’ve seen it all, and I’ve seen enough.)
Chattanooga has four major contiguous long blighted commercial and industrial market areas, plus a few other smaller pockets of blight. That does not include commercial areas in Brainerd that are marginalized and at risk of blight because Eastgate (for some mysterious reason) never seems to merit the same consideration for interstate access that CBL is awarded once every decade just for the asking. The remaining blighted areas are THE areas that need strategies for major public investment in infrastructure and amenities, along with development incentives like TIF and PILOT. How is it that the first greenway ever included in a city plan was proposed along Chattanooga Creek, yet it remains the last place to ever see one, if it ever will?
Now that Chattanooga’s gentry enjoys the fruits of massive public investments and development incentives for downtown, the riverfront, and Enterprise South, the only barriers to doing the same, but on a much smaller scale, in our remaining blighted areas are blighted hearts.
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Excellent, Mr. Wrinn.