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Posted on Thu. Nov. 01, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

EDITORIAL

Let's tiptoe down to the river and take a look around

DISCUSS
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Parkview Field's very success might make us take a poor risk.

Because the mayor made the effort to get strong public input every step of the way, he has arrived at a “Legacy” fund plan likely to win widespread approval. Setting $30 million of the $75 million aside and spending about $7 million in the next two years seems like a good mix, and focusing on projects for the long term – such as downtown, riverfront and youth development – is appropriate.

Most of the excitement will undoubtedly be generated by a single project – at $500,000 the relatively modest riverfront development study. As John Urbahns, the mayor’s director of community development, says, we’ve talked a lot about the riverfront in recent years, but, “One of the things we’ve never done is a full and complete study of the rivers.”

A word of caution is in order here. Riverfront development also has the most potential for pitfalls and missteps. Something so many have so longed can lure us into an expensive, ill-considered fiasco if we aren’t careful.

Parkview Field has been a tremendous success downtown. The facility is magnificent, the TinCaps are a big draw and attending a game – or a concert – there is a joy. Work has even started on the long-delayed commercial and residential part of the complex, which brings the vision of a rejuvenated downtown closer to fruition – it’s hard to miss the flurry of new projects in the surrounding area.

That very success can blind us to a couple of realities we need to keep in mind about the role of the public sector in projects that need private-sector enthusiasm to succeed. Government is at its best when it provides all the infrastructure support needed by entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as a development-friendly tax and regulation structure. The further it goes beyond that, the greater the risk of taking a wrong turn. Putting out a list of ideas, for example, and awarding matching funds to the best proposal is one level of risk. Actually acquiring the land and pushing ahead with a single idea is an entirely different level.

And what might be accomplished should not be oversold. Consider that in bringing about Parkview Field, the city did not create economic activity so much as move it. Certainly we have a jewel downtown now, but was it fair for the city to punish all the businesses that had thrived around the existing ball field, which, don’t forget, was already paid for?

All things considered, a study of the current situation and all the riverfront possibilities is a g


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