Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Government contracting and being "careful" about your associations

In line with my thinking that elected and appointed officials and other community stakeholders need to think about what they do in terms of managing their community's brand and brand promise, asking hard questions about who you want to associate with and do business with is another element of thinking as an asset manager ("Town-city management: we are all asset managers now").

1. Why provide public funding to teams that are poorly run?  I am not that interested in professional sports from a win and loss perspective, but am from the standpoint of business, financing, stadiums and arenas, public involvement, transportation demand management, etc.

While I have changed my tune about the impact of Verizon Center on Downtown DC -- I used to be categorically negative, arguing that the East End would have developed anyway, because of a depletion of developable land further west, the reality is more complicated (more about this later) -- the reality is that having sports facilities be significant augurs of revitalization is a crapshoot.

It works in some places and not in many others, although I think we are starting to get a hand on how to make it work a lot better ("An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor") and we might as well focus on that because it's very difficult to win the battles arguing for zero public financing.

Still, one thing that communities very rarely think about is the quality of their sports team "partner."  After all, if you're providing that entity with many millions of dollars, it's a "public private partnership," right?

There is a fair amount of clamoring amongst the Growth Machine set to "bring the Washington Redskins football team back to Washington!"  The team left Washington in the 1990s for Suburban Maryland.

But as Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins writes yesterday ("Tired of the Redskins dysfunction? There's one person to blame"), the team is run so poorly, is such a zoo organizationally, even if it is profitable for the team owners.

Why should the City of Washington be eager to get the team, or want to be associated with it?

2.  Choosing mendacious firms to be your private sector "partner."  This comes up too with the Trump Hotel at the Old Post Office, or the Trump Organization and "public" golf courses.  Why do business with an entity that stiffs contractors ("Third lien on Trump hotel brings alleged unpaid bills to over $5 million," Post), challenges tax assessments ("Trump claims his golf courses are worth tens of millions. Until the tax bill arrives," Post), etc.?

But such antics aren't limited to the Trump Organization.  For example, Fortress Investment Group and public golf courses ("How Private Equity Found Power and Profit in State Capitols," New York Times).

3. Don't lease space to retailers that do a bad job.  This comes up with Eastern Market, DC's public food market (I sit on the community advisory committee). We had a meeting concerning an appraisal of the building to determine a fair market value for the space, and in the conversation I raised an issue about one vendor who is particularly sub-standard--even though their product isn't that great they are busy. When I commented the reply was--they are always busy.

I countered that the quality of their product and service reflects on the brand promise that Eastern Market presents, and that we should take responsibility for the quality behind that promise.

... it's why for years I've been suggested we contract for "mystery shopper" reviews of the vendors, so that we can have objective discussion about the service-value-quality equation.

(It's difficult to get some of the vendors to be responsive because they are basically awarded perpetual rights to be at the market, based on the 1997 law that created the current organizational form.)

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