City should stop thinking small

The content of today’s N&R column came to me as I was sitting in a meeting with supporters of all eleven of November’s municipal bond initiatives.  It occured to me that every one who spoke represented a project that was good for Greensboro but was fighting an uphill battle to get voters to understand their visions.

The biggest elephant in the room was the Civil Rights Museum and everyone knew it.  They wanted to know how to get past the negatives and get people pulling for them.  My column lets them know what I think.

I’ll expand more on the formation and progress of this group soon, but for now… here’s the column.

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By David HoggardN&R mast_1_27.jpg

8/2/06

Fire stations? Who can be against fire stations?  Libraries? It’s hard to argue with building new libraries.   But after those, pushing the “against� button for the balance of the eleven municipal bond initiatives might be as likely as choosing the “for� button this November.

A swimming center?  “We don’t ‘need’ a $9M swimming center.� some will say.  And they’ll be right.  But what about the millions of dollars that regional and national swim tournaments will bring to Greensboro… we certainly ‘need’ that, don’t we?

And what about that $10M for ‘economic development’�, some will object, “that’s just giving money away to big corporations.�  Well, no, it’s not.  When big corporations with big fat payrolls decide to expand, they want to move pretty fast.  Greensboro simply doesn’t have any place for them to go that has basic infrastructure in place.  Basics like sewers, water lines, and streets.

That’s just the ‘group think’ around here: We think small.  We think about why we shouldn’t do things… not why we should.  Greensboro is simply not known around the state and nation for being a pro-active community.  We’d rather react, and that needs to change.

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$5.5M to renovate War Memorial Stadium?  I don’t think so.� will be the naysaying cry coming from many who called War Memorial supporters that same name during the 2003 baseball stadium unpleasantness. “We just got us a brand new ‘free’ baseball stadium downtown which is very successful�, they’ll say.  And they’ll be right, too.  But the nearly-century-old stadium on Yanceyville Street still hosts over 200 baseball games per year and plans are in place to transform the National Registry site into something quite special for future generations.  More importantly, it belongs to us, and it is memorial to our dead soldiers… and it is falling apart.

However, the real naysaying will be reserved for the $5M bond to help complete the International Civil Rights Museum.  And with good reason, too, because as it stands right now, people have valid reasons for voting it down.  Chief among those reasons is that we don’t really know what’s going on down there.  That has to change, and soon.

Few projects in this town are more important and more disappointing than what is occurring (or not) in the old Woolworth building on South Elm.  It is time for two things to happen so we can finally get that important museum open in our lifetimes.

To their immense credit, Earl Jones and Skip Alston had both the vision and the gumption to get the project going, but their lighting-rod personalities have hindered the project’s completion ever sense.  They need to realize that it is no longer solely their baby and finally relinquish control over the museum’s destiny.  If they choose to stay, I’m afraid they will only oversee its ultimate demise.

Secondly, before most voters will feel comfortable enough to give the museum additional millions of dollars, we need to be clearly shown where every penny has come from and where every penny has gone.   Taxpayers demand transparency, and that museum’s finances are opaque at best.

If bad financial decisions have been made, those should be revealed along with the measures that are now in place to prevent similar mistakes in the future.  If every penny has been wisely spent, then that will go a long way towards instilling confidence in voters’ minds.  Either way… we need to know before any more public money is spent on the project.

Greensboro needs and deserves the International Civil Rights Museum.  In addition to celebrating the important history the building represents, we could certainly use all of the tourism dollars that it will surely generate.  Let’s get shed of any negatives that are holding the project back and move forward – this time with transparency.

Truth is, we need all eleven of the projects that November’s bonds represent.  We need to start thinking and acting like a real city that has a common vision for itself.  We can no longer afford to support only our individual interests if we want to be taken seriously on the national stage.

Let’s stop thinking small.

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18 Comments

  1. Posted August 2, 2006 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    David,

    Do you have information that the “economic development” funds are to only be spent on “Basics like sewers, water lines, and streets?”

  2. Posted August 2, 2006 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Here is the way the city describes that bond… “Economic Development Bonds will provide funds to support industrial parks and provide infrastructure, such as water, sewer, and street improvements, and acquisition of land for economic development projects.”

    I left out “land acquisition”. In addition, I’m sure the term “provide funds to support industrial parks” can be loosely interpreted.

    I know you well enough that you have a point behind your question… spill it.

  3. Posted August 2, 2006 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    That’s just a huge chunk of change and I’d like to know what city council has in mind before I cast my vote. “Such as” and “funds to support” are vague. I can imagine the funds, as described, going to fund any number of pet projects and, as described, not necessarily going only to improvements of public infrastructure. Would a grant to help fund the start-up of a bar-b-que restaurant be permitted? Land acquisition for an apartment complex or go-kart track? The land acquisition part is questionable by itself. Is the city to become a landlord or will it turn around and re-sell land it has improved? Is that the proper role of city government? Even if so, will their be any criteria on the conditions under which the land is re-sold? Will its re-sale be open for bids or will the buyer be selected before the improvements begin? Any guarantees that the city will reap a profit?

    I agree with you that there is nothing wrong with thinking big, but in this case voters need a little more information than size. The way the proposal is written now, it lacks safeguards for fairness and accountability.

  4. Posted August 2, 2006 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    If you want to stop thinking small, why not go ahead and expand the Coliseum to 50,000 for the Fox-8 American Idol /ACC Tournament needs. I was thinking that a fold-back system would allow an additional 25,000 seats to for those 14 days out of the year that the coliseum exceeds the 13,000 seat capacity it once had.

    As for the Skip & Earl Show, the Civil Rights Museuem is one of the few historical gems we can claim in Greensboro. You are right, it’s time to thank them for their work and move on with less “flashy” leadership.

    I still like Joe Bostic’s methods when he ran the County Commissioners – pay as you go. Cut expenses to fund projects.

  5. Posted August 2, 2006 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    David,

    I thank you and the swim community thanks you. Any positive “press” is appreciated. We understand the Swim Center is a tough sell but we have pretty solid info that such a facility would bring much needed revenue to the Greensboro area. Just over the past few weeks there have been three large swim meets in the Gso/HP area. Each is a likely candidate to use the proposed facility. These three meets alone had over 1500 swimmers plus various family members, coaches, etc. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Our club, GSA, only hosts one other meet in town and other clubs have trouble hosting any meets locally! We travel to many meets per year and can vouch for family expenditures. Ouch! Our “home meets” are in Hillsborough! The city has but Lindley Park pool (june/july/aug), Grimsley and Smith high schools facilities. Water is scarce to nonexistant for practice times and impossible to obtain for meets. Grimsley and Smith pools are not really usable for even small to moderate meets. This does not even take into account High School swim teams! This facility could possibly be used for high school practices, dual and triple meets, Regional and State champs, etc. Conference Championships are held out of the county each year! With a proper facility other possible options include Special Olympics, Masters Swim Meets, college meets and championships (not just the ACC either), Parapalegic Olympics, State Games (huge!), etc. Other aquatic options are scuba, kayak, water polo… the list goes on. The Swim Center will get as much use as the City of Greensboro wished to allow! This can be built, used and managed to offer numerous opportunities to the citizens of Greensboro and the state of North Carolina. This is not a case of “If you build it, they will come.” We are already here! I also have no doubt that such a facilty would increase interest and participation in swimming throughout the community. Who knows the Swim Center might even open up the sport of Diving to Guilford County High Schoolers. There certainly enough gymnasts and cheerleaders to give it a shot!

    We all know there will be a certain number of folks who vote a “straight no ticket”. Those of us in favor of any or all of these projects must go out and vote or defeat is certain. Vote your conscience but VOTE!

    Great article/blog dude.

    Mick

    PS: Personally I would love to see the ACC come out in favor of this facility perhaps even with a check in hand. We shall see!

  6. Posted August 3, 2006 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Good to hear from you Mick. (You too, Don)

  7. Posted August 3, 2006 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Morning Dave!

    I’m not exactly sure why Greensborogrovians would care what the national stage thinks of them. Small is beautiful. Ask most New Englanders.
    (Granted, I realize this will take a fair amount of time, and so you may want to take a few years off.)

    I used to attend the city planning meetings in Cambridge, and it was interesting to see that their plans included shorter buildings, narrowing the
    roads, widening the sidewalks, etc. The point was to make the city pedestrian friendly and car unfriendly. It worked brilliantly.
    Of course they had to add cars to the train/subway, and build parking decks at the perimeters…but more pedestrians, more money spent in shops, and more culture.

    I would suggest taking some of the money and spend it on researching interesting solutions in other places, including Europe and Asia.

    Hell, I’ll do it for a hundred bucks.

    That said…a Civil Rights Museum is a fantastic idea, and should be the pride of all Greenies and Blogsborovians. Maybe Gates/Buffett or BOA can
    foot the bill.

    Peace and Love,
    David B

  8. Posted August 4, 2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    David,
    Did you really write this, alone?
    Get your head on straight and re-think some of this stuff.
    I am still studying these issues. I only cast one vote for or against each issue, but you can be sure that I study and think about each one before I make a decision.
    I need more information.

  9. Posted August 4, 2006 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Diane,

    Whom are you suggesting co-wrote this with David? When you say, “Get your head on straight and re-think some of this stuff,” are you suggesting that David hasn’t thought this through? You said you are still studying the issues and need more information but in suggesting that David “re-think” it sounds as if you’d made up your mind. David needs to “re-think” and “get [his] head on straight” because his stance is different from yours.

    David usually gets information and deliberates carefully before taking a position. While I sometimes disagree with his conclusions, I can never say that David doesn’t have his head on straight. And NEVER would I suggest that David’s conclusions are anything but his own.

  10. Posted August 4, 2006 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    The website for the Gso Swimming Center has some info that may help some folks with their decisions.
    http://www.greensboroswimmingcenter.com

    This facility will have a positive economic impact on the Greensboro area immediately upon completion as it will bring thousands of swimmers and their families along with millions of dollars to Greensboro each year. Swimming is a 10-11 month sport for hundreds of Guilford County families and thousands across the state of North Carolina. Meets routinely draw folks in from VA and SC as well. Quality facilities are very limited and there is a great demand. While studying up on the swim facility keep in mind that swim meets typically last 2 days (some 3) and routinely have 400-500+ swimmers. Charlotte hosts 20-25 meets per year! That is a lot of hotel nights, meals, gas, trips to the mall or downtown, etc. Please also keep in mind that the wonderous Guilford County School system has 2 pools for 13 (i think) high schools. There is a demand and need for this facility.

    For the physical and fiscal health of Greensboro please VOTE YES!

    Mick

  11. Mike K.
    Posted August 4, 2006 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    So where exactly would the swim center be located? Some information over on Sandy Carmany’s post said that a couple of good possibilities exist near the Coliseum but I thought this facility was going to be nearing the downtown Ys potentially? Just confused on that point.

  12. Posted August 4, 2006 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    JW,
    I didn’t really mean that he had help actually writing the piece. However, the things David wrote in that column don’t sound like his usual line.

    Sounds like he might be using the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” tactic in order to get support for his pet project.

    Asking if anyone can really be against fire stations and libraries is like asking if anyone is against grandmothers and baseball. Of course we need libraries and fire stations.

    If some non-essential items are cut out of a bloated budget, we won’t have to put items that are generally considered essential city services on a bond issue. The things that should be on a bond issue are non-essential projects, such as The Civil Rights Museum and the ACC Hall of Fame and economic incentives to millionaire developers.

    The Civil Rights Museum. if it ever opens, will have a tremendous economic impact on our city. Do the citizens of Greensboro want to help finance it with tax money? I hope so; but the citizens (aka taxpayers) should have the choice to say yes or no to financing a private enterprise.

    But, fire stations? Providing adequate fire protection is an essential duty of the city. It should not have to be financed by a bond issue. And maintaining city property should not have to be voted on. Maintaining city-owned facilities is an essential duty of the city government. Greensboro bought property and build a huge government complex on South Elm-Eugene Street. The Melvin Municipal Building heat and air conditioning is failing and the roofs of some municipal buildings need to be replaced. During the 2005-2006 budget deliberations, these repairs were put off as well as general maintenance of some office machines. Of course, we all know that the City Council didn’t raise taxes on most of us in an election year. (Property owners in the Central Business District Downtown were an exception. Our tax rate was increased.)

    I believe that poor management of tax money is the reason for some of these bond issues. I think David does, too. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he really believes we should vote for them.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. I hope you get my drift.

  13. David Hoggard
    Posted August 6, 2006 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Dianne,

    I wrote every word and they are my own thoughts and positions. Your suggestion to the contrary is a little wierd.

    The “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” statement is undstandable, I suppose. But I find little in the package that I am committed to “beating”.

    You are partially correct that “poor management of tax money the reason for some of these bond issues” but that doesn’t change my position above that “we need all 11 projects that the November bonds represent”. What we might disagree upon is how they will get done.

    I hear your position to be that because we have had “poor management” in the past, that they should not be corrected now and opportunities should be ignored – I disagree. Can, or should, for example, WMS be fixed out of the general fund… I don’t think so.. it is too far gone. It was poorly maintained, so now we must get a “home equity loan” to fix it fast because we have let it go too far.

    The one bond that I am having the most trouble with is the one for general building maintenance. Even though this is a “need”, I want to understand why we are looking to finance repairs – those should be built in to the general fund…. like WMS should have been.

  14. Mick Riggs
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Mike K,

    The two sites I have heard bandied about most often are the old Canada Dry site and rumor has it that some more influential folks would like to see the city own the “other corner” of Lee/Chapman. Sort of next to Tobacco USA. There were initial discussions with the YWCA about a competitive pool project (this too involved public money) but once the city stepped in that was that. I suppose a collaborative effort is still a possibility. I believe that the two sites near the Coliseum are best due to existing parking (big bucks saved there), etc.

    I would love to see the ACC step in here with some moola. They did in Christiansburg, VA but VA Tech was involved in that project.

    Dianne,

    I agree wholeheartedly that some of these projects should be paid for through the normal budgeting process particularly building maintenance and to a lesser extent libraries and fire stations. Our money either way I suppose. I am more with Hogg than you on the CR Museum and full disclosures on moola. I do believe it needs to get done though. I am unconvinced of the economic impact of the facility but some things cant be about money.

    Mick

  15. Angie S.
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I voted for the Downtown Natatorium last go-round. What I don’t like about this version is its being at the Coliseum. I hate going over there, plus they’ll probably charge me $5 to park. The Canada Dry is a handsome building that already looks like a museum…why not save it for the ACC Museum? Putting a gigantic pool there seems a guarantee that the Canada Dry will come down.

  16. Mick Riggs
    Posted August 8, 2006 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    We agree completely on the $$ parking issues. The CVM’s main lot is not a viable option for practice parking or maybe even meet parking due to costs, conflicts with other events, etc. The auxiliary lots are best used here. Due to the cost of land involved I believe using existing parking lots or decks is essential to the success of the project. Just plain common sense as well. I believe the ACC Museum issue has been tabled though I have a feeling this will all come together somehow. We are assuming The Canada Dry building is usable as a museum or even shell. May or may not be. The swim community may have some preferences as to location but few are locked in any particular site.

    Mick

  17. taxpayer
    Posted August 12, 2006 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    How much money will Skip Alston get to open more resturants.

  18. dixie hogard
    Posted August 13, 2006 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    hi. i’m sure this is irrelevant, but browsing and noticed top four sentences in an article, something about firefighters, libraries, and politics; rather Fahrenheit 451′ish.