In Memoriam: War Memorial Stadium

wms6-plaza-sm1

Pretty, isn’t it?

This is the latest architectural rendering of what the exterior of Greensboro’s long neglected War Memorial Stadium will look like if our City Council approves the expenditure of the $1.3M that was earmarked a couple of years ago, via 2/3rds bonds, for the ‘renovation’ of our National Registry of Historic Places property.

But wait… there’s more.  That’s not all we’ll get.  The interior of one of the nation’s oldest sports facilities will undergo some slight, shall we say… alterations during its “renovation”.  It will be lovingly transformed through the complete demolition of its 5500 seat capacity into the new and improved War Memorial Wall repletewms6-3rd-base-sm with seating for 500 fans who will enjoy a baseball game perched atop temporary aluminum bleachers.

Oh, I can here the echoes of the anti-naysayers still.

“No one’s talking about tearing it down”, they said.  “War Memorial will become the state’s premier amateur sports facility”, they said.

Well… here you go, Greensboro.

These renderings were presented yesterday to the 325th meeting of the War Memorial Stadium Task Force that was appointed by then-mayor Keith Holiday to undertake planning for the facility.  Over the years we developed many, many desirable options that would do the place proud for generations to come.  But this  one, known as “Scheme 6″, is where things are likely headed with the prevailing budget climate.

The preservationists on the Cwms6-1st-base-smommittee rejected “Scheme 6″ out of hand and have asked for a 6 month reprieve before the bulldozers show up.  Since the taxpayers in Greensboro have rejected spending any money on the place during 2 previous bond referendums, we are going push for some sort of private/public funding to do what needs to be done to preserve the place in as close to its current form as possible.

If we fail, the pictures you see here closely resemble what we will get.

Posted in Greensboro Politics, Life in General, War Memorial Stadium | Comments closed

RRP Rule – It affects everyone

My business is profoundly affected by the EPA’s Repair, Renovation and Paint Rule, and so are you.

Never heard of it, you say?  Oh, you will.

Starting January 1st of this year, here is what is going on:

“Under the North Carolina Rules (PDF), beginning January 1, 2010, dust sampling technicians, firms, and individuals performing renovation, repair and painting projects for compensation that disturb lead-based paint in homes and child-occupied facilities built before 1978, must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Child-occupied facilities include, but are not limited to, child care facilities and schools with children under the age of 6 years of age that are built before 1978″

So, anyone who undertakes repair, renovation or paint work for pay – even your uncle Joe or the neighborhood kid down the street – must pay the state $300.00 and become a Lead Certified Firm.  In addition, your uncle Joe, must have paid an additional $200 (+/_) for an 8 hour training course to become Certified Lead Renovator.

If a company or individual you hire for even basic maintenance  is not on this list, and they undertake renovations covered by the rule, they are breaking the law and are subject to fines of up to $32,000 per day for non-compliance.

My company is on the list and we have certified personnel on staff.  Unfortunately our prices have gone up due to the extra time and costs required to comply with the new regulations.

My prediction is that once the public finally figures out how much these regulations are going to cost them, there will be a tremendous outcry.

If you are a contractor or a homeowner, you might want to check out these great discussion on the new rules.  The former topic opens with this…

I became a EPA certified contractor today.

I must say that nothing since I started a contracting business have I run into that has been what I feel is a deadly hammer blow to the ability of a contractor to run a profitable business as this new RRP rules.

After sitting through 8 hours of this and listening to the questions and answers and asking some very specific ones myself, I personally believe that no legitimate contractor will be able to be 100% compliant to these new rules and regulations, AND remain a viable business.

In my opinion – on April 22, the EPA will essentiall turn every single person in the home improvement field into a criminal no matter how well intentioned an individual is to comply with these regulations.

After taking the certification I am personally appalled that this legislation was allowed to get to where it is.”

There is a movement afoot to delay the implementation of the RRP Rule to help contractors avoid obscene fines for non-compliance of a law that most of them have never heard of.  American Public Media’s “Marketplace” recently aired a segment on the issue.

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Nothing nefarious, they’re called Historic Tax Credits

Today’s Rhino takes a stab at understanding Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits for income producing properties and how it relates to the long-awaited opening of Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Museum.  But, I suspect, the article had only enough information to make people suspicious of what had to occur to finish the project.

As the name implies, such credits are only available to qualified, historically significant, income producing properties against Federal taxes owed on income of the owner.  Since a non-profit, such as Sit In Movement, Inc. doesn’t pay income taxes, it had to sell the property to an entity that does to capture the credits.  In this case, that apparently occurred back in August when the building was sold to Museum Landlord, LLC.  Museum Landlord, LLC could then, and only then, make the tax credit funded capitol  investments in the property – within strict guidelines outlined by the Secretary of the Interior – and capture the tax credits for themselves.

Museum Landlord, LLC was then free to “syndicate” their tax credits, or sell them off to other tax paying entities  (individuals or companies) – at a discount, thereby marginally lowering the effective income tax rate for the purchasing entity.

The National Trust for Historic Places is the leading agent of this syndication as well as the syndication of New Market Tax Credits, which may have also been utilized for our Civil Rights Museum.  The money made from this  “syndication” is then invested into the historic property in the form of  preservation related improvements.  That is, in no small part, how the Museum’s board was able raise the balance of the $14M needed to finish the project.

Back during the “baseball wars” in 2003, proponents of War Memorial Stadium tried valiantly to explain that just such an arrangement could be utilized to raise the funds needed to renovate the place.  People just couldn’t grasp the concept nor get past the fact that the publicly owned stadium would have to be privately owned during the period when the tax credits were being captured (usually 7 years) and then, like the Museum will be, reverted back to the original owners.

That arrangement is still available for WMS… or any other designated historic property in Greensboro.  The work my company performs always qualifies for not only Federal, but also State Historic Tax Credits.  Around 1/2 of our business comes from tax credit qualified projects.

Posted in Greensboro Politics, Preservation, War Memorial Stadium | Comments closed

Alston: “More to it than meets the eye..”. Indeed.

Well now.

Meanwhile, over at Ed Cone’s, following up on his explosive blog post regarding Deena Hayes and Weaver/Quaintance’s freedom of information request, Yes! Weekly’s Jordan Green:

“What records do the city and county have referencing the hotel project or recovery zone bonds that could possibly be considered protected? On what grounds would they try to withhold them? And why would Quaintance and Weaver have to threaten a lawsuit to obtain them. I suggest every reporter and blogger in Guilford County duplicate their request.”

Good suggestion.  I’m in, but unsure how to go about it.  Sounds like it might be time for the Spag/Roch partnership to reconstitute.

Meanwhiler, downtown Greensboro’s meanest lapdog continues to dig himself a hole big enough to bury a multistory hotel, should the need arise.

(I forgot how much fun this can be)

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I’d fight, too.

I’d do the same thing if I were Dennis Quaintance and Mike Weaver…. and then some.

If a bunch of influential people got together, with the assistance of  government, and were looking to start a company that will be in direct competition with my niche-market, self-financed and struggling-in-this-economy window restoration business – I’d be doing a lot more than just asking for the information that got the upstarts – who know little to nothing about the window restoration business – to the brink of becoming my direct competitor.

At a minimum I’d be planning a march on the buildings that house the governments who are enabling the threat to my company’s future and the livelihood of all of the people who work for me.

Quaintance and Weaver’s inquiry, as with all of the other inquiring that has been going on for weeks, has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with governmental accountability, project viability and fairness to the privately owned entrepreneurial  entities that could very well lose a lot of business if this thing goes off as planned.

And lastly, as today’s N&R article so clearly points out: any insinuation that Mike Weaver is motivated by racism in trying to slow this thing down is ludicrous.  Sadly, though, such insinuations are par for Greensboro’s course.

Posted in Life in General | Comments closed

Sausage making goes swimmingly

As I was trying to follow how it was that our City Council went from not overtly considering (Rhino, 3/4 down the article) any kind of Swim Center in June ’08, to copping $10.25M from the P&R Commission’s 2012 bond recommendations (p.3) for a new, indoor, central public pool, which magically transformed to the $12M that was inserted to the P&R bond that was put before the voters and then, finally, arriving at the $19M Coliseum-managed facility that the current Council will vote upon just 1 1/2 hours before the new Council is seated,  I found this little item provided to Council in June ’08 from former City Manager Mitch Johnson following a public records request.  Some excerpts (emphasis mine) :

“…staff has determined that a competition venue appropriate for hosting regional swim events would be significantly more expensive to build; potentially in the range of $18 to $20 million based on the facility recently completed in Cary, NC.  I am concerned that the placing the proposed pool, as listed in the CIP, in the bond package would create expectations which we would fail to meet with that level of funding. As a result I would recommend not considering this option unless Council is very clear that we would not be providing a competitive venue as required to host state or regional level events. I also do not believe that private support could handle the $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 short fall”

“Secondly, the construction of a new facility of this type would carry a significant new operating cost requirement (estimated at $300,000 to $400,000 per year). Over the last few years as we have contemplated a competitive facility I have been in discussions with various parties about options to reduce these on-going costs. However, I want Council to know that at this time there are no firm commitments on how this might occur and we would have to assume that the majority of the costs would fall on the general fund.”

So, not only did the P&R Commission’s recommendations get ignored in the rush, but so did the City Manager’s warnings and urgings.

This I know: The three-pool-design of the Swim Center, and the number of other amenities and specifications that finally went to bid, were driven by the owner (City of Greensboro).  The architects (TFF Architects & Planners) were charged with designing what the owner wanted.  That’s just the way it works.

Someone, with kahunas made of steel,  submitted a ‘want list’ to the designer that was obviously – even to a layman – way out of whack with the available money.  Just as obviously, the private sector  – aka the competitive swim community – has either failed to pony up as expected, or, was told not to make the effort because of an abiding confidence that funding for the overage would materialize, as is now happening.

I’m guessing all of this happened shortly after the steel-kahuna-laden War Memorial Commission stole the Swim Center from the Parks & Rec Department and was given the go-ahead to “fast-track” the project (read, develop and implement without public scrutiny or input).

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Double Hung, LLC: Government Collection Agency

My company has 9 employees, one of which (that’d be me) is the combined Human Resources, Accts Payable, Accts Receivable, Sales, Payroll, Purchasing and Collections departments.  Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands.

Recently, I realize that I’m also – by law  – an unpaid collection agent for any arm of the government who has dibs on any portion of my employee’s earnings.

Employers were long ago assigned to the unpaid role of collector and transfer agent for their employees federal and state income taxes, Medicare payments and Social Security contributions.  I can see the appeal of this for the agencies involved for two reasons: 1. They have more centralized accounting than they would if each employee was required to submit a check every pay period for what they owe, and 2. Everyday citizens would start monthly armed insurrections toward the government if they had their money in their hands for a short period and then had to subsequently part with it in a pro-active manner. Taxpayers are shielded from the every-pay-day shock of realizing how much they actually owe and are dulled into compliance due to the hands-of sterility of the transaction.  The pleasure of paying their taxes is assigned to me.

By forcing employers to withhold and transfer taxes for the taxpayer, we, the employers, become the un-remunerated, bad guy, pay day collector – the government just rolls in the dough and threatens the business owner with penalties, and even prison, if we don’t do their bidding exactly when they bid it.

Wage garnishments – same thing.  Child support payments withheld – same thing.  And all without even the courtesy of a call from some bureaucrat saying, “thanks for your help with this“, or, (in my dreams), “here’s a $200 tax credit for helping us out every two weeks – we couldn’t do it without you“.

Hell, they don’t even provide me with a postage paid envelope to mail them their damn money, within seven days… or else… by penalty of law.

What’s worse, if I don’t do as they say – I’ll become the bad guy.   This just ain’t right.

The government has a sweet deal when it comes to collections.  All they have to do is find that you employ someone who owes them money, and little ol’ me  is transformed into an unpaid money handler for “the man”.

Posted in Life in General | Comments closed

Swim Center funding – a retrospective

As the debate surrounding funding for Greensboro’s proposed swim center heats up, I thought a little background might be in order.

  • July 9th, 08 – Parks & Rec Commission votes (PDF, p5) to send a $20M list of projects to City Council.  The swim center is not on that list.
  • July 11th, 08 – City Council ignores the recommendations of the Parks & Rec Commission for the prioritizing future bonds.  A $10M Swim Center is recommended by Council.  Read the comments.
  • Later that month – City Council votes to add a – now $12M – pool bond to the surprising P&R bond.  Sam Heib recaps the events.
  • November 4th, ’08 -The day before the vote,  silence as a strategy for bond passage.

If you look back on it, $20M was always the price tag for a “Regional Swim Center” and Greensboro is backing into that number slowly but surely.  People are pissed at the process, and rightfully so.

Nobody likes anything getting shoved down their throats, even if the thing being shoved might end up being good for them.

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A mandate for moderation

From what I’m hearing about mayor-elect Bill Knight’s preparations for taking over the reigns of running the City Council meetings, one of the things he is doing is preparing a seating chart for the dais.  He is also getting briefed by city management as to the stark differences between public and private financing and accounting.

One Council member I spoke with yesterday has the impression that Knight will be initially operating as if he has received an electoral mandate to change the Council world.

As this Council member imparted, “… a 900 vote margin is hardly a mandate…  and I can assure you that if, for some reason, there was to be a tie-breaker election held today, Yvonne Johnson would win by 5,000 votes.”

Good point.  Knight will need to keep in mind that he is only one vote and only has a short 1 1/2 years until he faces an East Greensboro electorate that will not sleep through the next Council election as they did last week.  With that reality looming, Mayor Knight is going  have to reach across the the proverbial isle if he has any designs on winning a second term, much less accomplishing anything of substance during his first.

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Council Kingmakers

10:30p Update: The Great Divide

I was standing next to Bill Burckley at the Old Guilford Courthouse tonight as the precinct results were coming in. As we were speaking, the numbers for Greensboro’s mayor came around and showed Yvonne Johnson leading Burkley’s charge, challenger Bill Knight, by a little over 350 votes with only six precincts left to count.

“Looks like we’re going to have a new mayor”, said Burckley.  “How’s that?”, I asked, thinking it was all but over with only around 17% of eligible voter caring to come out today.  “Bluford’s not counted.”, he replied, speaking about the polling place at Bluford Elementary School on Tuscaloosa Street . (Update: Yes! Weekly explains Bluford and Burckley)

Sure enough, when the numbers cycled back through, Bill Knight pulled ahead and a roar went up in the courtroom.  Knight won his first ever election by 964 votes city-wide.

After this stunning win by an almost unknown mayoral candidate, preceded by Trudy Wade’s defeat of Sandy Carmany two years ago,  local political consultant Bill Burckley’s retainer must be paid by any Greensboro hopeful who is serious about gaining a spot on our City Council.

Second in the king-maker role this time around is undeniably the Hammer Brothers of Rhino fame.  Eight of their nine picks ended up a winner this term suggesting that their pulse-feeling fingers are more sensitive to the mood of the local electorate than that of the N&R’s who endorsed six of nine.

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