Politics and visions of real estate

Conflict, confusion and consternation over the decrepit, unsightly Water Street parking deck in Old Downtown Wilmington provide another pathetic example of why government operatives should not be dabbling in real estate ventures—meddling in land use projects best left to private business decision makers.

Wilmington StarNews reporter, Julian March, documents the reasons why political officials cannot function effectively in real estate deals and should have no role in these private activities. I don’t think he wrote with that intention, but that’s the way it turned out in my view. (link)

Politicians and bureaucrats that attempt to decide how land should be used (and who should own it) have conflicting interests; little knowledge of best use principles and markets; and no economic incentive to make unbiased judgments. Further their interference distort normal market functions.

March’s article illustrates all of this dysfunction. Mayor Saffo wants “public input to make the right decision.” Neither he nor any city council members know what to do about the deck. It was owned by the city in the ‘90s; sold to a developer with plans (stymied by politics as well as economics, according to Councilwoman Laura Padgett); half of it bought back in 2007 (contract with partner ended in 2010 with no deal); and last June the city repurchased the private half for $2.17 million. In a recent bad decision, city council members, except for Laura Padgett, just voted to spend $670,000 to repair the structure, expecting it will be torn down in three to five years.

Does this seem as though these people know what they are doing? Mrs. Padgett said in frustration, “People are expecting us to do something.” Well, maybe, but do they have reason to believe you will do something right?—contrary evidence aplenty piles up.

In my humble opinion, the city council should cut taxpayer’s loses and sell the site (it appears that the relic structure is worthless as a public asset). But it should be sold unencumbered by the city’s Vision 2020 group or Wilmington Downtown Inc.’s Dream Committee. Gaze at their crystal ball and dream as they might, none of these people have any more clues to what the future holds than any of the rest of us. Further, their flights-of-fancy meddling will inevitably waste more public money.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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