The issuance of the bonds is to construct a parking structure in a private development, which includes a total liability of $16 million, not including upwards of $8 million in interest over the 25-year life of the bonds.
At their meeting on February 27, the city commission in a 6-to-1 vote, supported a development agreement between the City and developer Michael Uzelac of Federated Properties for a high-end, mixed-use development. This came with little information on the financial viability of Federated Properties and its parent company, Federated Capital, and the project itself, a mixed-use condo complex.
It was even admitted by Federated CEO Louis Ferris from Ann Arbor, that we have never done a project of this magnitude before. The city treasurer and city manager have also projected that Traverse City cannot afford this project through the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Brownfield funds, used to help with environmental cleanup.
Why is it then that the City is so willing to enter into an agreement with a developer who has shown little financial background for Federated Properties and the companys abilities to build and follow through with a project of this magnitude?
The citizens of Traverse City have the right to petition the question of whether taxpayers should support and back the issuance of said bonds at the next primary election on August 8, or general election on November 7. The citizens have 45 days from March 3 to obtain signatures from 10% of registered Traverse City voters, or approximately 1,118 signatures, to secure the right of the people to vote on this issue.
The question at hand is whether the City can afford to back bonds for a private development of this size in a and questionable economy when it already has budgetary obligations that are possibly not guaranteed to be met. And why we are being asked to support a high-priced developer who can only say, trust me, Im an honest man, without any financial justifications?
Another local developer, who actually lives in Traverse City and has shared his financial credibility, has shown city staff that this project can be done at a much lower cost to taxpayers. So why are we not working with this developer?
Why are we in such a hurry to work with a questionable developer who has been reluctant to answer basic questions about his companys financial background? Does this have anything to do with the political influence of State Senator Jason Allen, who intervened in this process and who also received at least $32,000 in campaign contributions from associates of Federated Properties long before a project was born?
It is unclear why the City is negotiating and supporting a project with little to no information on how it plans to make this project happen, and what the benefit will be to the residents, who will be paying for this with their tax dollars. Most people support the growth and vitality of downtown, but at what expense?
The city manager is currently hosting community forums to explain the budgetary problems of the City and the cuts that have to be made to make ends meet. So why is the City supporting spending $16 million when it can‘t even afford our public ice rinks in winter and lifeguards in summer?
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that fewer Americans can afford to purchase a house in 2005 than did in 2003. It has also been shown that annual incomes have not risen proportionately to the rising cost of housing. As an example, the NAR shows that to buy a $207,300 house (with 20% down and a 25% qualifying ratio for monthly housing expenses to gross income), loan underwriting would require a buyer to have a median annual income of $57,214. (Knight-Ridder/Tribune).
Is this representative of an average income for a Traverse City resident who could afford a high-priced condominium in the proposed project?
I whole-heartedly support our downtown and its future growth and vitality, especially on the west end of Front Street. However, I do not support the use of taxpayer dollars to support private development, especially in these times of budget cuts and questionable national and world economies. There are too many questions with this plan that have not been answered, so why the rush?
Lets build a wise development on West Front Street that is in keeping with our small town character and the existing scope and style of the downtown area. If developers wants to build new projects, let them do so with their own resources. The proposed project is just too risky in these questionable financial times.
If you feel that your voice should be heard as a resident and a taxpayer, sign a petition to place this on the ballot. Its not up to the director of the Downtown Development Authority or the city staff to build our future; it is up too us, We the People.
Jim Carruthers is a TC resident with an active interest in city politics and issues.