Off The Record: Mayor grinds out 'whole hog motion'

December 01, 2003|HERB BROCK

Mayor John W.D. Bowling apparently spent too long in Frankfort when he was ably serving us as our 54th District state representative for a couple of terms before resuming his post as hizhonor last year.

The jigsaw puzzle kind of motion that he pieced together last Monday on the proposed downtown parking garage would have made both the bureaucratese-talking policy wonks at the Legislative Research Commission and Rube Goldberg proud. It also was further evidence supporting the old line that there are two things you don't want to see being made: sausage and laws.

And, boy, did the mayor flap a huge patty on the skillet during the Danville City Commission meeting a week ago - a skillet made red hot by the burning controversy over whether the city should have made a commitment to issue bonds to make up the $2.2 milllion difference between grant funds and the nearly $5 million cost of the facility.


In one motion, the mayor said "yes," "no," and "maybe."

His motion started out in the affirmative: The city staff should go to work putting together the bond issue, and the commission should make the issuance of the bonds contingent on President Bush signing the federal budget that includes a $1.75 million federal grant for the garage, to be added to the $1 million in Renaissance money already in hand.

That part of the motion is what the pro-garage folks had been eagerly pushing for the last several days. The Third Street Development Corp. said it had a hot prospect interested in leasing 19,000 of the 80,000 square feet of the old Hub-Gilcher building but the potential tenant said it wanted the city to show movement on the garage by Nov. 30.

So the first portion of the motion showed the movement that the TSDC had sought, and its leaders were happy and its pal, The Heart of Danville, was beating strong - until it almost flatlined with the next part of the motion.

The motion took a U-turn and went negative: The aforementioned possible lessee and other prospective tenants in negotiation with the TSDC for leasing parts of the Hub-Gilcher building should make a commitment in writing to lease the space they're checking out.

Two ifs don't make a definite. The initial part of the motion recognizes the city will issue the bonds if it gets that grant from the feds. With this condition, the mayor was telling potential tenants the city will commit to the garage if they agree to commit to a lease, but the city will move forward on the bond issue and make good on its commitment only if it gets the grant.

Actually, there's nothing iffy about this iffy part of the motion. It's really a negative because no businessperson in his or her right mind is going to commit to a lease on those terms - terms that appear to be a bit of a shove-back on the mayor's part, who seems to be saying to the prospective tenants, "You put a condition on us and give us a deadline, well here's condition on you. So there."

When Bowling read the iffy part of his motion, several pro-garage folks emitted a muffled but still audible groan and started shaking their heads and squirming in their seats. Then, the mayor took them further down the road of despair by adding another if-ridden condition.

The next part of the mayor's motion said that TSDC must agree to "subsidize" the shortfalls during the first few years of the garage's operation, a period during which the facility will be in the red. A study indicates that, based on 67 percent occupancy, the garage will show a net loss of $60,000 in its first year. When the operation goes into the black - the study forecasts a profit of more than $100,000 in the tenth year with 98 percent occupancy - the city will happily be taking care of the finances.

But while it is not a positive condition, it's not a totally negative one, either. It's more of a maybe condition because, if it is has the bucks, the TSDC says it will agree to cover the early shortfalls.

The last part of the motion is on the positive side. At least it's noncontroversial. They mayor said the TSDC should give the city the right of first refusal if the city wants to buy the building. No problem, said the TSDC.

So there we have it. A whole hog motion made in a slaughterhouse by a man who has the skill of a veteran legislative sausage maker - a man who deserves to do guest spots on both the Food Channel and C-SPAN.

Hey mayor, while we try to digest this confusing, convoluted, poor-tasting patty, why don't you consider running for another legislative seat. I hear there's an opening in the U.S. 6th District congressional district. They have really big meat grinders in Washington, even bigger than the one you brought back to Danville from your meat-grinding days in Frankfort.

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