Let’s make a deal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Normally I do not like to write about the same subject from week to week, but the issue of the bid for the Jefferson School just seems to make less and less sense as one ponders it.

With growth occurring in every corner of our fair city, it is difficult to understand why the city administration finds it necessary to further subsidize the expansion of downtown.

With a market that seems to have a plan for almost any property, it is nothing less than astounding to hear the city is still dead-set on almost giving the Jefferson School property away.

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With assessments rising like crazy and some members of council telling the people that their property is worth more each year and they should pay ever-higher taxes or move out, this situation is bizarre to say the least.

Given the backdrop of such a situation, it is difficult to understand how the city administration could recommend a deal that almost gives away a property that anyone can see is valuable.

Just blocks away there is a similar multi-million dollar project that is fully funded with private money and proves that the market has risen to the level where giving public funds and property away makes absolutely no sense.

With others willing to pay many times as much for space for a similar project just blocks from this site that many would say is even more desirable, is it proper to make a deal at any cost?

With this coming just days after the platitudes expressed by the majority on council that a reasonable tax reduction was not possible, the situation rises to a level of question even after explanations by senior city officials in support of what was proposed.

The functional priority under the Virginia Public Procurement ACT expressly demands that the best and most beneficial deal is garnered for the public and that there be no preconceived agenda as to the outcome of the bid selection.

The expressed criterion seems to be in question when there are lingering issues that appear not to have been well thought out.

Even if everything was &uot;legal,&uot; the demands inherent in the process deal with trust in how the bid was structured and must be above any reproach or question.

This deal could not even pass muster with those on council and the public should question the process even further.

Statements from the city administration that the sale of the Jefferson School property would be ready for the upcoming city council meeting or the next, points out that this issue in some minds is already a done deal.

Such thinking seems to be driven solely by the date that the Cultural Arts Center is opening and is no excuse for rushing a bad deal forward to make pretty.

With such a singular vision from the architects of the deal, it does not bode well for the public’s interests in this situation.

It would be more appropriate to properly appraise the property, then re-bid it to insure that the best and highest deal for the benefit of the public was had.

It is enlightening that there seems to be less interest in getting a good deal for the property, than there is in justifying why the property should almost be given away.

It should also be noted that the deal is for more than just the building, but also a large chuck of downtown land, concessions to use public parking, and many other benefits.

This is even so when it has been stated by the developer that he will charge millions of dollars when the project is built out.

With more at stake than just money, the city administration seems to dismiss the option of an active and proper negotiation for the sale of a prime public property and this deal has highlighted serious questions.

The real question is; will they do the right thing now that some light has been shed upon such a failed policy?

Rhetorically the answer is; probably not any more than they listen to us about taxes, elections, or other issues.

As this saga plays out over the next few weeks, it will be of great interest to see if there are any lights on at city hall?

If there is any interest in doing the right thing, we will see a statement describing that the present path being followed in this situation was not in the interests of the public and a new bidding process will be forth coming.

The city does reserve the right to reject all bids if they are not in the interests of the public.

One can only hope that the powers that be will see the errors endemic in this situation and learn that such deals must get more thought and review in the future.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at RogerFlys@aol.com.