Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Big NO to TC Tower

Well, the voters of Traverse City have spoken, and they've given us a resounding NO to the parking deck proposal I wrote about (so long ago!) in March.

More than 70 percent of Traverse City voters who cast ballots Tuesday rejected a bond issue of up to $16 million to pay for a public parking deck on West Front Street.

The deck plan was part of a 100-foot-tall, mixed use development by Federated Properties. The public deck would have been the city's second.

Project opponents defeated the bond issue proposal by a 2,823 to 1,142 tally.

. . . .

The project and its financing gained near-unanimous city commission support, forcing residents who opposed the bond issue to collect signatures to place the proposal on the ballot. City commissioner Deni Scrudato was the only commissioner to vote against the public parking deck plans during the approval process.

(All boxquotes from the Traverse City Record-Eagle.)

This is really too bad. It probably was a pretty good idea--it was to be built on long-vacant/underutilized land and the town would probably have reaped some real long-term benefits from the project, in spite of the fact that it was far from an architectural gem.

BUT our civic elders seem to be addicted to the notions that a) the electorate will do as its told; b) we don't need to listen to anyone but rich developers, and we don't even have to listen to them if we don't want; c) the easiest way to get a proposal through is to railroad it through.

Well point a) has been pretty well demolished. The bond proposal to fund the parking deck that was an essential part of the tower project went down 70/30.

Our civic elders seem to have added another notion to their core beliefs: d) when things go wrong, it's the newspaper's fault.

Supporters of a downtown parking deck proposal were in a foul mood after city voters crushed a $16 million bond sale.

Louis P. Ferris, chief executive officer of Federated Properties LLC, angrily threw a Record-Eagle reporter out of a post-election gathering at the Park Place Hotel to the cheers of a small group of deck supporters that included Downtown Development Authority Chairman Peter Schmitz and ex-Grand Traverse County administrator K. Ross Childs.

Some deck supporters in attendance hurled obscenities at the reporter.

"You can talk to our attorneys tomorrow and find out what we're going to do," Ferris, of Ann Arbor, said. "Write it down."

I find it hard not to laugh at this. I would have liked that project to get built, and here are the folks responsible for bungling the thing when it was all but a done deal shouting obscenities at a news reporter! These guys should have a look in the mirror.

Jeff Culver cast a "no" ballot Tuesday at the Grand Traverse Heritage Center. He said the DDA should spend tax increment financing funds on a children's park or improved street lighting, not another public parking deck.

He was also uncomfortable with the role state Sen. Jason Allen played in the removal of an alternative public parking deck plan submitted to city officials by another West Front developer. Gerald Snowden said his plan could have cost millions less than the Federated Properties' proposal, but he withdrew it citing political pressure. Louis P. Ferris, the chief executive officer of Federated Properties contributed $20,000 to an Allen political fund.

Culver said he supported the idea of building "up not out" and strengthening the downtown.

"If (Allen) just admitted he played a role in something funny, but he won't even go on record to explain what happened...," Culver said. "That's probably the No. 1 reason why I swayed back to the 'no' side."

Here's word from another deck supporter: I blame you city officials, Jason Allen (that's Mr. Selective Memory to you!), Federated Property folks and anyone else involved in suppressing the Snowden proposal, which could have been brought forth and dismissed in twenty minutes by people who were slightly less arrogant and slightly more savvy. I blame you. You guys blew it.

And it might not just be me who is getting a bit irritated with our civic leaders and their minor-league version of insider politics. (At the end of the day it has to work--as in Chicago, the city that works.)
Voters bounced former National Cherry Festival director Tom Kern from his job as a Grand Traverse County commissioner, while Christine Maxbauer easily bested two opponents for the hotly contested District 7 commission seat.

Kern lost to Bruce Hooper, 49, a third-generation fruit farmer, 706-483 in the Republican primary for District 1 that includes all of Old Mission Peninsula north of Front Street and the northwest corner of East Bay Township.

Kern initially was shocked by news of his defeat but said he will finish serving a term that expires Dec. 31. He wished Hooper well in the November election.

Hooper and Maxbauer were quoted taking the county commissioners to task for their lax oversight of a collapsed septage plant project, and its aftermath [link] [link]:

Several candidates for the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners want someone fired over the county's failed septage treatment plant.

"It's difficult for me to believe some people haven't lost their job over this," said District 7 board candidate Christine Maxbauer. "I can't begin to tell you how frustrated I am with the septage treatment plant. I'm outraged by it."

A 150,000-gallon tank collapsed at the plant just a month after it opened in 2005. Further investigation showed all the tank buildings were structurally failing and not designed to industry standards.

In addition, the plant is losing money, taking in far less revenue than county officials and consultants projected.

"It's a fiasco, and I don't understand why they keep hiring the same people that keep doing a bad job," said candidate Maurice "Maurie" Dennis.

Candidate Bruce Hooper said it's time for the county board to step in and take over management of the troubled plant from the five urban townships that oversee it.

Hooper is challenging incumbent Tom Kern in the Republican primary for the District 1 seat while Dennis, Maxbauer and Cleon "Junior" Van Dyke are in a three-way race in the Republican primary for the open District 7 seat.

. . . .

Maxbauer, 52, is a former oil company logistics specialist who sells real estate. She said it's time for the county to televise its meetings and dismisses the excuse it's too costly.

"You can't tell me the county — who has paid a lawyer $200,000 for (managing) a septage treatment plant project that wasn't up to standards and fell down — can't afford $6,000 a year to televise its meetings," she said. "The public interest needs to start coming first, not the special interests."

Could it be that the arrogant incompetents are finally going to be called out on the carpet? Could it be that someone is finally going to ask how all this happened? Could it be that someone is finally going to ask why we keep paying huge fees to a lawyer to investigate/manage a debacle that he probably caused in the first place?

Well, I guess we'll see. Good luck to the new guns on the commission.